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Meant To Be
by Janet Rivenbark

 
Joe walked into the office that had been Catherine’s for almost a year. He didn’t knock, but then he never did, even when the door was closed. She sighed and shook her head as he approached the desk.

“I told you it would never happen again,” he said as he dropped a paper on her desk, “but miracles do happen and I’ve been proven wrong.”

“Again?” she asked with a sassy look and a wink.

“Don’t be a smart aleck,” he admonished her with a grin. “Read the letter.”

She opened the letter and was stunned by what she read.

The Cook County, Illinois, State’s Attorney’s office had heard about the new division that she had put together for John Moreno and they wanted her to come to Chicago and do the same thing for them. It wouldn’t be a permanent job; they just wanted her long enough to get the unit set up, running smoothly and a director trained. They estimated about two to three years.

She looked up at Joe with shock clearly written all over her face.

“I told you that people were noticing what you were doing here with our domestic violence division!” he told her. “You’ll probably be able to make a career out of starting up units all over the country. I’m proud of you, Kiddo; you’ve been doing great stuff.”

She quickly read the rest of the letter. They wanted an answer by the end of the work week; and if she was going to take the job, they wanted her to start on the first of next month. It was Monday afternoon; that gave her four days to make a decision and another two weeks to be there ready to start if she decided to go.

“I don’t know, Joe,” she began. She knew without much thought that she didn’t want to go, but she had to at least look like she was thinking about it and compose a letter refusing them, but in a nice way.

“That is what you said last time, and you didn’t go. I’d hate to lose you, but you just don’t turn down two gift horses in a row! What’s in New York for you now? You said yourself that you have no family left here, your friend, Jenny, has taken a new job in London, and your other friend, Nancy, has gone to Seattle because of her husband’s job.”

“I’ll have to think about it,” she said, leaning back in her chair with a worried look. “I’ve lived here all my life.”

How could she turn this down and not look like she’d lost her mind? She knew she didn’t really owe everyone an explanation, but she also knew that Joe would demand one.

“You do that, but don’t over think it; you have a tendency to do that you know.” He turned to leave the office and then turned back to her as he reached the door. “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off to think about it,” he suggested. 

“Joe,” she called after him, “it’s already after four!”

“Then go home, Radcliffe!” he called back over his shoulder. 

She did just that. She was in a haze all the way home; she hoped that Vincent would sense her confusion and decide to visit. Maybe he could help her think of a way to gracefully decline the offer. She couldn’t easily go to him for the time being; workmen had started making repairs and painting the basement that morning, and the building manager had banned all the residents from the area until the work was done. Vincent had told her that the tunnel entrance in the park was temporarily closed because the mechanism that opened the door was broken. Mouse was fabricating a part to make the repair. There were only a few other entrances that she knew about, but none of them were close or easy to get to. Vincent seemed to have his own ways of entering the world Above.

***

It was late April, and darkness still came early. She was coming out of the bathroom after a shower when she heard Vincent tapping on the glass of the French door.

She pulled on the robe that matched the blue silk nightgown she had on and rushed to the door. She threw it open and all but fell into his arms.

“Vincent!” was all she could manage.

“Catherine,” he said, as he wrapped his arms around her tightly and held her, “I’ve been feeling your worry and confusion since this afternoon. What’s wrong?”

She rubbed her cheek on his padded vest, and shivered.

“It’s cold out here,” she said hopefully.

“Let’s go to the living room by the fire,” he suggested, and pulled her into the room.

When they had settled on the couch, he turned back to her.

“Now tell me,” he said gently.

“It’s happened again,” she told him as she clutched a throw pillow to her chest.

“What has happened again?”

“It’s Providence all over again,” she said.

Providence? They’ve offered you another job?”

“Not Providence this time. It’s Chicago. It isn’t a permanent position, but I’d still be there for at least two years.”

Chicago? Chicago is eight hundred miles away,” was all he could come up with.

“And Providence is less than two hundred. They both might as well be in China, for all that they take me away from you,” she said, hugging the pillow tighter.”

“Are you going to go?” he asked softly, not looking at her.

“I was thinking that I wouldn’t, but I don’t know, Vincent,” she said with a sigh. “I really don’t know how to say 'No, thank you.’ gracefully; it’s a wonderful opportunity. They want me to help them set up a domestic violence division, like I did here. I enjoyed the challenge of doing that, but for the last few months, with things running so smoothl.y.…” she let it go at that.

She suddenly had an epiphany! Maybe she could use this to her advantage. She didn’t want to be manipulative, but sometimes.…

Since Vincent had recovered from his brief but frightening illness over a year before, they had moved forward in their relationship. It hadn’t been great leaps, but it had been forward movement. He allowed her an occasional kiss, she had to initiate them, but he didn’t back away or go into hiding for a week afterward, either. The week before, on their third anniversary, he’d even kissed her…on the cheek. He had also begun coming into the apartment more often. It seemed that the three days he’d spent there during his illness had broken the ice. He said he didn’t remember much about being there during that time, but he did feel more comfortable inside than he had before. Maybe the threat of the possibility of her leaving would make him come to his senses and say something…anything…tell her what he wanted…ask her to stay, for starters.

“What was it your friend Edie told you to do last time? Make a list of the pros and cons and then compare them,” he suggested.

“I thought of that, but where there are at least a dozen things on the PRO side, there is only one on the CON, but that one outweighs all the PROS,” she told him.

“What is that?” he asked.

“The CON is that I would have to leave you, and Chicago isn’t just a few hours way on the highway. It’s eight hundred miles, at least fourteen or sixteen hours if I drive, and not something I could do to come back for the weekend.”

“You could fly,” he suggested.

“I predict that I would be working long hours, at least six days a week for the foreseeable future. Even if I flew and left right after I got off work, say on Saturday, I’d still arrive late, and have to leave early on Sunday,” she said.

“It sounds like you’re trying to talk yourself out of it,” said Vincent. “I see a lot of things on the PRO side: you’d be doing work you enjoy, helping a lot of people, women and children who need your help. You might even be a force toward getting the abusers longer sentences and psychiatric treatment like you did here. Not to mention making shelter, job placement, and counseling available to the women who have been abused.”

“And you sound like you are trying to talk me into it, Vincent,” she said.

“I’m not trying to talk you into it,” he said. “I’m just pointing out the things that I know you’ve already thought about.”

“Wouldn’t you miss me, Vincent?” she asked miserably, aware she was sounding childish.

“Of course I’d miss you, but you said it wouldn’t be permanent. We could write, maybe even talk on the phone occasionally. You could come and visit when you get time off; maybe on holidays,” he told her.

She just sat on her end of the couch clutching her throw pillow and feeling desolate.

“I’m not trying to send you away, Catherine,” he whispered as he took her hands and pulled her over to sit next to him.  “But I would also never hold you back. All I’ve ever seen is New York City and the tunnels beneath it. You’ve helped me see the world. I can look at pictures in books, but it isn’t the same as looking at those same pictures and listening to you tell me about what you saw and did when you were there. You can show me Chicago. I have a hard time imagining a body of fresh water as big as Lake Michigan. You must go see it and tell me about it.”

She buried her face in his vest and let her tears flow, hot, silent and unchecked. “But I’ll miss you so much!” she moaned; she knew she’d backed herself into a corner.

His arms tightened. “And I will miss you, but this is something that you must do, Catherine.

***

That had all happened ten days ago, and now Catherine was ready to leave. The time in between had been spent arranging to have her apartment emptied and put up for sale; she was determined that she was going to have a house when she came back. Preferably one with tunnel access.

She had decided to drive to Chicago. She had too much luggage to carry on a plane but not enough to have moved by professionals; so, she traded her sedan and bought one of the brand new mini-vans. It probably wouldn’t get used a lot except for longer trips, but she thought it was still the best choice. She’d heard that Chicago’s transit system wasn’t as good as New York’s, and maybe she could get Vincent to go on that trip to Connecticut when she visited on her vacation.

She hadn’t been able to spend nearly enough time with Vincent during those last ten days.

She packed up the van, parked it in front of Peter’s house, and went to spend her last night in New York City, Below. 

She walked into the dining chamber with Vincent to see a homemade Bon Voyage banner stretched over the serving tables. She looked at Vincent accusingly, and he just smiled and shrugged.

“The children insisted,” he told her as they were surrounded by well wishers, each wanting a hug and a few words. A few even had gifts for her.

“But I was hoping that I’d get to spend my last evening, alone with you,” she whispered as they sat down at the long table with their plates.

“The children go to bed early,” he told her, “and everyone else realizes that we want a little time to ourselves.”

His words were confirmed to be correct later when they finally made it to his chamber. They had the whole evening alone, and no one barged in on them as they sat cuddling and talking on his bed; but, in Catherine’s opinion, Vincent called an end to it much too early.

“You have a long drive ahead of you tomorrow,” he told her.

“I wasn’t planning to drive straight through. I plan to stop after about six or eight hours and finish up on Saturday. “

“But you still need your rest,” he insisted as he escorted her to the guest chamber.

As they stood outside, Catherine looked up at Vincent pleadingly.

“Will you do something for me, Vincent?” she asked, hopefully.

“Anything, Catherine,” he told her.

“Kiss me…I mean really kiss me. Give me something to think about while I’m working my butt off in Chicago.”

She fully expected him to make excuses why he shouldn’t, so she was completely and pleasantly surprised when he did as she asked.

He leaned over and touched his lips tentatively to hers. He lingered only a moment, but it was still electrifying.  He pulled back a little to look into her eyes. He must have taken encouragement from what he saw, because he stepped closer, gathered her into his arms, and kissed her thoroughly, and with an expertise that left her breathless and almost begging for more.

His eyes met hers once more as she moved her arms up his chest and around his neck to pull him closer. Their lips had just met for the third time when they heard a “Harrumph!” from the tunnel junction a few feet away and both looked up to see Father turning around and limping off as quickly as he could.

Vincent leaned his forehead on hers and closed his eyes.

“He’s angry,” observed Catherine unnecessarily.

“Yes, he probably is,” agreed Vincent. “I’ll have to explain.”

“You’re an adult, Vincent,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to explain why you are kissing me.”

“I agree, but he does worry,” he told her.

Before she could say anything else, he kissed her one more time, quickly, and stepped back. “I’ll be here early to take you to breakfast, and then I’ll walk you back to Peter’s. Sleep well, Catherine.”

“You too, Vincent,” she called after him.

She didn’t sleep well. She kept replaying the kisses. If she hadn’t been going to Chicago, would they have even happened? She doubted it. She had a feeling that he’d only risked it because he knew she’d be gone in a few hours and wouldn’t be around to insist that it happen again. Well, at least she might get another one when he left her at Peter’s.

She tossed and turned and dozed a little, then finally gave up, got up, and dressed. It was still early when she gathered her things and decided she would surprise Vincent by showing up early for something for a change.

When she got to his chamber, she found it empty. He’d obviously slept restlessly too, his bed was a disaster. He was either in the bathing chamber or in Father’s chamber, so she decided she would wait.

The tunnels were quiet this early hour. So quiet that she could hear voices coming from somewhere. She listened carefully and recognized Vincent and Father’s voices. It sounded like they were arguing.

“But you were kissing her, Vincent,” Father almost shouted.

“Yes, Father, I was kissing her. I love her. She’s going to be gone for quite a long time. I wanted us both to have something to remember while we are apart,” Vincent said in a loud, but calm voice, much calmer than Father’s.

“If I hadn’t come along when I did, I shudder to think what else you would have given each other to remember,” Father said sarcastically.

“Father, you are being childish now. We haven’t reached that point in our relationship.”

“You may not have, but Catherine has. I can tell.”

“I can tell too, Father,” said Vincent in a lower voice. “And you are right, she has, but she understands and is willing to wait for me to catch up.”

“Mark my words,” said Father in a warning tone. “She’ll go to Chicago, she’ll meet someone, and it will be ‘bye-bye Vincent;’ and I’ll be left here to pick up the pieces.”

Catherine caught her breath. Realizing she was eavesdropping, she backed up a few steps then turned and fled back the guest chamber where she sat down to wait for Vincent to come for her.

Back in Father’s chamber the conversation continued.

“No Father, you don’t know Catherine like I do. She is steadfast. She said she loves me, and she means it. If I hadn’t urged her to go, if I’d asked her to stay, she would not be going. I almost had to talk her into it. She needs this; she will get such a sense of accomplishment from it, and she will do so much good. It’s an opportunity that she shouldn’t pass up.” Vincent turned and took the stair up to the entry in two steps. “I have to go. I promised to walk with her to Peter’s after breakfast. We will finish this conversation later.”

Vincent was surprised when he reached the guest chamber and found Catherine sitting in the chair studying her road atlas; she’d obviously been up for a while.

Catherine was concentrating to help mask the feelings of dismay caused by her overhearing his conversation with Father. She’d thought that she and Father had come to an understanding. He’d called on her to help with Vincent when he had disappeared during his illness. He’d allowed her to stay and help take care of him afterward. Now he was talking about her as if they were at the same place they had been six months after she and Vincent met. But she couldn’t let Vincent know she’d overheard and that it had upset her. She could tell he was angry at Father, and she didn’t want to make it worse.

They ate a quick breakfast in the dining chamber then made a brief stop in the kitchen, where William pressed a half-full brown paper grocery bag into Catherine’s hands.

“Just a little snack for your trip,” he assured her then he handed her a blueberry muffin fresh from the oven.

“Me and what army, William?” she asked, noticing the substantial weight of the bag.

William just smiled and waved them out of the kitchen. Back in the corridor, Vincent took the bag from her then took her hand and held it as they walked.

Neither of them said anything on the walk to Peter’s threshold. When they reached it, Catherine turned to Vincent.

“Are you coming in?” she asked, as she opened the metal door into Peter’s basement.

“No, I don’t think, so,” he said, setting the bag inside the door.

“Why not?” she asked, disappointed.

“Because I can’t say a proper goodbye with an audience looking on.”

With that comment, he took her into his arms and repeated the previous night’s kisses. Only this time he clung to her, nuzzling the hair away from her ear.

“I’m going to miss you, Catherine,” he whispered. “Stay safe and be well.”

“I don’t want to go!” she moaned, tightening her grip around his neck.

“You must, Catherine,” he told her. “You’ve made a commitment.”

“But I’ve made a commitment to you too! And that is more important.”

“No, Catherine. They need your help, they need you,” he insisted. But no more than I do, he added mentally.

She knew that it was foolish, but she just didn’t want to leave him. It took her several moments to get her tears under control and step back from him.

“I’ll be back for a visit just as soon as I can get two days off in a row…and I’ll write. I promise,” she told him between sniffles.

“And I will write back as soon as I have an address,” he reciprocated.

“When I send the address, I’ll send my phone number. Peter will let you use his phone to call me. There is only an hour’s difference in time zones.” She stood looking up at him and then threw herself into his arms for one last hug and kiss.

The kiss made her knees weak, and she was surprised when Vincent picked her up and deposited her on her feet inside the basement door.

“I love you, Catherine,” he said as he closed the door between them.

“I love you too, Vincent,” she answered, not sure if he heard her. She bent to pick up William’s ‘lunch’ bag, settled her backpack on her shoulder, and trudged up the stairs into Peter’s kitchen.

***

She made Cleveland that night, surprised that she managed to drive eight hours on the little bit of sleep that she had the night before. She slept better that night and was on the road again the next day after a good breakfast. In Chicago, she stayed in a hotel just off the Interstate for a few days while she looked for an apartment. She found one, a furnished sublet, on Tuesday and moved in on Wednesday. She had the rest of the week to get settled before she had to start work on Monday.

She mailed postcards to Vincent each day until she moved into the apartment. She sent her first letter on Thursday. It included her new address, her phone number, and a detailed description of her trip and everything that had happened since she arrived. It required extra postage, a lot of extra postage.

She wrote every other day for the first few weeks and was surprised that she didn’t get any answers back. She reasoned that Vincent may have taken off to be by himself for a while, so she didn’t think much of it; she just kept writing.

She was ready to call Peter to ask him to find out what was going on, why she hadn’t heard from Vincent, when she got a call from Peter’s daughter, Susan. Peter had suffered a mild heart attack.

Two weeks later, Peter called her. He told her that the heart attack was a wakeup call for him. He was going to retire and move closer to Susan and his grandchildren. Catherine didn’t mention that she hadn’t heard from Vincent since she left; she felt he didn’t need the extra worry.

Spring turned into summer and Catherine fulfilled her own prophesy; she was working long hours…at least six days a week, sometimes seven. If she got to go home after only ten hours, she felt lucky. And she continued to write to Vincent at least once or twice a week.

She had a note from Peter that he’d met someone and they were getting married. Talk about whirlwind romances. She had to smile.

Summer became fall, and Catherine couldn’t stand it any longer. Vincent had been on her mind all day; and when she left the office at five p.m., early, even for a Saturday, she headed home, where she packed an overnight bag and called a cab to take her to the airport. She was on the ground at JFK just before ten p.m.

She gave her old address to the cabbie and struck out across the street and into the park as soon as he was out of sight. Once in the park, she stopped long enough to stuff her purse into her backpack, then she threw the handle of the pack over her shoulder and headed for the park threshold at a quick walk.

It was after eleven when she reached it. No one was around at that hour, and after a quick look she ducked into the culvert and moved as quickly as she could to the door. She reached into the niche and pulled on the lever and nothing happened. The door didn’t budge. She tried several other levers and still nothing. Surely Mouse had fixed it by now. She tried the metal gate and found that there was a chain with a lock on it.

She picked up a rock and started tapping on the pipe that ran next to the niche; after almost an hour of tapping she gave up and dropped the rock.

She did a quick inventory of other thresholds that she could use, but none of them was an option, at least not in the middle of the night. The basement of her old building was out. She was no longer a resident, and she wouldn’t be allowed any further than the lobby, even if the doorman on duty knew her. She could feign a visit to one of her former neighbors, but not at this hour. There was the threshold in Peter’s basement, but he wasn’t there and she didn’t have a key to his house. She was sure he probably kept a key hidden somewhere outside, but didn’t know where. And she couldn’t call him to ask, because he and his new wife were on a cruise for their honeymoon.

Then she remembered an entrance through a manhole only a few blocks from where she was now. She knew it was one that Vincent had used on occasion. Maybe she could shift the heavy cover.

She was disappointed when she reached, it. There was a dumpster sitting on top of it.

It was nearly ten the next morning before Catherine finally gave up on her quest. She’d gone to the few businesses she knew that had thresholds in the basements, but they were closed. With Peter no longer living in the city, she had no way to get Below. And since it was a Sunday, she knew of no way to get a message Below. She hailed a cab, and told the driver to take her to JFK. Her ticket was for an eight p.m. flight, but she had no problem changing it to one that left at noon.

***

 “Was there a letter for me today, Father?” asked Vincent when they met in the dining chamber for dinner.

“No, nothing,” answered Father as they sat across from each other.

Vincent was puzzled, Catherine had been gone for over two weeks and all he’d had from her were some postcards. He reasoned that she was probably very busy with the new job and finding a place to live. He knew a letter would soon reach him and she would explain everything.

A month passed and still no letter. They got word from another helper that Peter was in the hospital; he’d had a mild heart attack. Father pulled out the decades old clothes and made a trip Above to visit his old friend. He came back with the news that Peter was doing well, Susan was there, and he would be out of the hospital in a week or so.

Everyone Below was shocked when Peter made his announcement that he was retiring and would be moving to live closer to his daughter. He told them that he was keeping his house in New York and that he would probably be back a couple times a year to visit.

Months passed and Vincent still didn’t hear anything from Catherine. He checked the Bond; she was fine. He could tell she was working hard, was often preoccupied and tired. There was also a sense of melancholy, but he couldn’t tell if it was his or hers, or both. He was surprised that Father didn’t say ‘I told you so’; he didn’t bring it up at all.

Vincent gave up asking if there was a letter for him.

It was October and Vincent was on a mapping expedition to some tunnels and caverns in a sector very deep below the city. Mouse had stumbled upon them a few weeks before, and he’d insisted that Vincent had to go with him so they could be mapped. Mouse thought they might be a good place for the community to move to if they ever had a threat like they’d had from the group of outsiders who had terrorized them for a time.

They had walked for miles on Saturday, measuring and mapping before stopping for the night. Vincent had been quiet all day and even though Mouse had talked enough for both of them, he had noticed.

“Vincent OK?” Mouse asked as they were spreading their bedrolls after dinner.

“I’m fine, Mouse,” Vincent assured him.

“Haven’t talked much,” Mouse observed.

“Haven’t had much to say,” Vincent told him, lapsing into Mouse’s speech patterns.

“Because of Catherine?” asked Mouse.

Vincent’s head came up and his eyes met the worried ones across the campfire.

“Yes, because of Catherine,” he conceded after a pause. Mouse saw and understood more than most people gave him credit for.

“She doesn’t write? She said she would,” Mouse began.

“Mouse, I’d rather not talk about it right now,” he said as he pulled some rolled up maps, books, and a pencil out of his pack. “I need to go over these maps before we sleep.”

Mouse just nodded and lay down with his back to the fire and Vincent. He was asleep and snoring lightly within minutes.

Ah, the sleep of the untroubled, Vincent thought as he spread the maps out on a flat topped rock. He hadn’t slept well in months.

He finally felt tired enough to try to sleep. He stretched out on his blanket, and just before he closed his eyes, he opened the Bond to check on Catherine, just as he’d done every night since she’d left.

He could feel a sense of anticipation and excitement, mixed with a little trepidation. He hoped she hadn’t taken on anything dangerous, it was similar to the feeling he used to get from her when she was doing undercover work or out looking for someone or meeting a source. He finally dozed, breathing a prayer that she was safe.

They were up and working at an early hour the next day. At one point Mouse pulled out the over-sized pocket watch he loved and announced that it was ten a.m. and time for a break. As they rested and sipped tea, Vincent remembered the feelings he’d received from Catherine the night before. He relaxed and checked the Bond again to see if everything was all right.

This time the feeling of her was close, very close, almost as she had felt when she was still living in the city. She was feeling a little frantic, and a lot disappointed. He was on his feet reaching for his cloak when it dawned on him that she was already receding and that it would take him several hours to reach any of the thresholds. He’d never make it in time. He collapsed back to his seat, turning his back to Mouse. He let his tears flow unchecked. It was the first time he’d given in to despair since she left. She had been in the city and he was quite sure she hadn’t come Below.

He and Mouse finished their mapping on Sunday and headed home. They stopped for the night and made it home before lunch on Monday. Vincent went right to Father.

“Father, did Catherine come Below this weekend?” he asked.

“No, she didn’t,” Father answered. “Was she supposed to?”

“No, but she was in the city, I could tell. She was so close, that I thought she might have been Below.”

“No, none of the sentries reported anyone near any of the thresholds or in any of the outer tunnels. I’m sorry, son.”

“Maybe she had business here, and couldn’t stay to visit,” Vincent reasoned, as he left the chamber.

***

Catherine was back at work on Monday and her coworkers noticed that she wasn’t herself. One even asked if she was OK.

“Just too many long hours, Justine,” she said with a tired smile, “but we have things set up and they seem to be running pretty smoothly, we can probably afford to slow down a little.”

Catherine cut back her hours to only fifty a week, from the close to seventy she’d been working.

Not long after that, she wrote one last letter to Vincent, hoping he’d answer and explain everything, but he never did.

***

Catherine had been on the job in Chicago just over two years when the Cook County State’s Attorney approached her to ask her if she’d like to stay on permanently as head of the department.

She was surprised by the offer, and was tempted to take it. Without Vincent, there wasn’t much reason for her to go back to New York. Jenny had met someone and extended her stay in London, and Nancy and her family loved Seattle. She had no family in New York, no job, and no place to live, and she liked Chicago; but she felt she needed to put some thought into this decision. The last time she’d made a decision like this it had been life change, much more than she’d expected.

She asked him for some time to think about it. He agreed and even suggested that she take some time off. He gave her the last two weeks in October, and told her that he hoped that she would come back with an affirmative answer.

She spent Saturday browsing the newspaper looking for houses and apartments in the Chicago area. On Sunday she even ventured out to a couple open houses.

When she got home, the light was flashing on her answering machine. She pushed the PLAY button as she was taking off her coat.

“Cathy, this is Peter. Please call me as soon as you get this message.”

She wondered what was up. She hadn’t heard from Peter much lately. He and his new wife spent a lot of time traveling and enjoying his retirement. He hadn’t been back to New York that she knew of; Susan said he’d even missed Winterfest.

She looked up his number and dialed. He answered after the second ring.

“You were waiting by the phone with baited breath for my call,” she joked when she heard his voice.

“Cathy.” He sounded relieved. “I’m glad you called. I was worried that you might be out of town.”

“I never go anywhere but to work,” she told him. She could hear the stress in his voice. “Is something wrong?”

“Yes,” he said. “I wanted you to know that I just got word this afternoon that Jacob died suddenly a couple of days ago.”

“Father?” she gasped. “What happened? How’s Vincent? He must be devastated.”

“They think Jacob had a stroke, and died in his sleep. Mary went in on Thursday morning to wake him when he wasn’t at breakfast, and he was dead. Henry Pei called me a few hours ago. He said that Vincent is holding up well, and so is Mary, but everyone is in shock.”

“So am I,” said Catherine. “Father was the kind of person that you expected to be around forever.”

“I know,” agreed Peter. “I haven’t seen him since I moved, but we kept in touch.”

“Peter, I think I should go,” started Catherine.

“Go? Go where?” asked Peter.

“To New York. I should talk to Vincent. He might need a friend right now,” she was on the edge of tears, knowing how Vincent must be hurting.

“You never did say what happened between you two,” prompted Peter.

“That is just it, nothing happened. I thought things were fine when I left. He urged me to leave, said it was something I needed to do. We said that we would write, and I said I’d send him my phone number so he could go to your place to call me once in a while. I wrote a few days after I got there and sent him everything, but I never heard a word from him. I continued to write for about six months. Then I got kind of crazy and frantic and I went to New York. I was only there for a few hours, but I couldn’t get Below. I came back to Chicago and wrote one more letter. I never got an answer, so I quit writing.”

“Cathy, I’m sorry. I wonder why Vincent did that?”

“I have no idea, but I kind of feel that it was his way of sending me off to find my happy life with someone else. He probably felt that if I could make a clean break like that, it would hurt less…but he was wrong. It has been a miserable two years.” She paused and thought for a moment. “But what if I go and it is just like the last time and I can’t get Below?”

“Use my threshold,” said Peter.

“What?” she asked.

“My place. I’m planning to put the house on the market, but as of right now it is still mine, and it is empty, except for furniture in a couple of the bedrooms. You can stay there while you are in New York, and you can use the threshold to get Below.”

“They haven’t blocked it?” she asked.

“No, not the last time I checked. Jacob said that they would leave it open as long as I owned the property.”

“That would solve that problem,” she said, thoughtfully. “Peter, my boss here has offered me the director’s job permanently; I told him I needed to think about it. If I go back to New York and find out that I want to stay, I think I’d like to buy your house. I always loved it.”

“Of course, that would solve a lot of problems all the way around,” Peter knew what she had on her mind. “Good luck, Honey. When do you think you’ll be there?”

“As soon as I can get a bag packed and get a plane out of here,” she said. “Tonight if I can swing it.”

“Then go for it. I keep a key hidden under the loose brick on the left side of the stoop. Use that to get in, and I’ll tell my attorney that you may be in touch about buying the place. Good luck.”

As soon as Catherine broke the connection, she called the airline. She was booked on a flight out of O’Hare in two hours. That gave her an hour to shower, change, and throw some things into a bag. She made it to the airport with only minutes to spare and didn’t breathe easy until she was in her seat and the plane was taxiing.

It was just after dinner time when she landed at JFK, but she didn’t stop to eat. She didn’t even think about the fact that she hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

The cab dropped her in front of Peter’s, and she was up the stairs and groping for the loose brick before it pulled away from the curb. Once inside she dropped her bags, relocked the front door and headed for the threshold in the basement. She tried not to remember the last time she used this threshold.

She knew when she passed a sentry because she heard a message go out. Whoever was on duty must know her because she heard her name tapped out in code.

Mary met her at the main tunnel intersection just outside the dining chamber.

“Catherine!” said the woman, opening her arms wide.

Catherine rushed to her and took the woman into her arms. “I just heard this afternoon, Mary. I’m so sorry! How are you doing? How is Vincent?”

“I’m doing all right, Catherine,” Mary assured her. “Vincent, as usual, is trying to lose himself in work.”

“Where is he?” Catherine asked, as if expecting to see him step out of one of the side tunnels at any second.

“He’s in Father’s study. He’s decided to make it into a common room; we’ve always met there anyway. We’ve all been in there, taking turns working with him all day. We’ve cleaned and dusted and put away all the books. You won’t recognize it. Vincent says that he wants it to retain the feeling of Father, but he wants to make enough changes so that no one feels as if they are intruding in Father’s chamber. He reopened the tunnel between his chamber and the study, and he’s closed the other entrance to his chamber.”

“He must really be deep into it,” commented Catherine “to not hear the sentry announce my approach.”

“The last time I looked in on him he was listening to music on that little tape player you gave him. He had the headphones on.”

Just then both women were chilled to the bone by the blood curdling, half yell, half roar of anguish that echoed down the tunnel from the direction of the study. Catherine was running toward the source before the sound stopped echoing.

***

Vincent had been hard at it all day, and to their credit, so had many of the people who shared his world. Mary had been there the most, supervising the cleaning.

He stood in the middle of the chamber and surveyed the work that had been done. He didn’t think that he’d ever seen it this clean and neat in his lifetime.

Several women had started on the upper level. They had dusted and re-shelved books for hours. The children had helped by carrying books up the stairs to the women. Vincent had told them not to bother trying to organize them; once they were on the shelves they could worry about organization later.   

He had found journals, notes, ledgers and maps all over the lower chamber and had finally cleared an armoire and an old fashioned wooden file cabinet to put it all in. By dinnertime it had all begun to make some sense. Mary had managed to get him to stop long enough to eat some dinner, but he insisted on coming back to work a little more afterward. He went to his chamber to get a tape player and headphones that Catherine had given him during his recovery. He selected a couple of tapes from the box, popped one in, put on the headphones and walked back to the study as he adjusted the volume.

Mary was standing in the chamber when he returned. He pulled the earphones off and let them hang around his neck.

“We got a lot done today,” she pointed out. “You could let the rest wait until tomorrow.”

“There is just a little more I want to do tonight. I want to get the rest of the ledgers in order so I can figure out where we stand when I look at them later. And there are some more maps that I want to get rolled up and into tubes before they get damaged.”

“You will try to get some sleep tonight?” she asked.

Vincent hugged her. “Yes, Mary. I will. This has tired me, and I don’t think I’ll have any trouble sleeping tonight.”

Mary kissed him on the cheek and left. He pulled the earphones back on and went to work.

When he’d finished what he’d said he was going to do he looked around and decided to do one more thing. He would go through Father’s desk, and remove everything pertaining to the community and move it to the armoire or the file cabinet then he’d go to bed. Father’s personal things could wait until morning.

He sat down in the desk chair and pulled out the top right hand drawer. Almost everything in it had something to do with the community. He started making a pile in the middle of the desk. The other two drawers on that side where the same. He made several trips back and forth between desk and armoire. He filed all the stuff then returned to the desk.

The center drawer was full of miscellaneous junk. Vincent smiled. Father did have a thing for not throwing anything out. The drawer held stubs of pencils, dried out ballpoint pens, buttons, coins, bits of string, a couple of empty candy tins, scraps of paper, several confiscated pocket knives and numerous other bits and pieces. He closed it; tomorrow would be soon enough to go all that.

The top two drawers on the left side held only personal items so he closed them. He knew the bottom left drawer held a bottle of good brandy that Father kept for special occasions, but he wasn’t sure what else was in it. He opened it and took out the brandy, placing it on the blotter, and then noticed what looked like a large packet of sealed envelopes tied with string. He leaned over, took the packet out and turned it over and was surprised to see that the top envelope was addressed to him.

He untied the string and spread them out on the desktop; they were all addressed to him. They were heavy cream colored stationary, and the writing was Catherine’s. The return address was “C. Chandler” with a Chicago address, the postmark on the first envelope was only a few days after Catherine had left New York, and they were written at about two or three day intervals, for over six months.

He picked up a letter opener and carefully opened the first one, a very thick letter with several stamps on the envelope.

It contained a long, newsy letter that ended with “I love you, and I miss you.” A postscript contained her address and a phone number. He dropped the letter and picked another at random, three or four down.

He rose from the chair, removed the headphones and tossed them and the tape player on the desk as he tore the letter open.

This one began with “I’m beginning to wonder why I haven’t heard from you yet, but then it dawned on me that you might have decided you needed to be alone for awhile. I understand. We did get a little carried away before I left; but, Vincent, you need to know that I wanted it as badly as you did, maybe more. I can’t wait to see you and kiss you again.”

He opened several more letters at random; pacing as he read. Each one was a little more confused and concerned. Finally he opened the last one. It was dated about six months after Catherine’s departure. It was short to the point of terseness.

Vincent,

I was in the city over the weekend. I tried every way I knew to contact you, but I had no luck. The Park threshold was blocked, and I didn’t have access to the few others that I know of. 

I guess I can be a little slow when it comes to these things, but I finally got the message.

I thought we meant more to each other, but obviously I was wrong. Regardless, I still love you. I guess I always will. I wish you well.

Have a happy life, Vincent. I love you.

Always,

Catherine

 

His first thought was Oh God, Catherine, who would do this? But then he realized who had done it. He took a swipe at the stack on the desk scattering the letters before he clutched the one in his hand to his chest, dropped to his knees on the rug beside the desk and roared out his anguish. Father, how could you? was his only thought.

***

The sight that met Catherine’s eyes when she entered the study was one that caused her as much pain as she knew Vincent was feeling. She paused only seconds, but the sight was burned into her memory. Vincent, on his knees, hands clutching something to his chest, head thrown back in agony with tears streaming down his face.

She didn’t think she touched any of the steps on the way down to the floor; she was on her knees in front of Vincent, reaching for him, taking him into her arms, offering comfort before she even thought about what she was doing.

His move toward her was pure instinct, he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer into the V of his legs, and he buried his face in her shoulder before he realized that it was Catherine who was holding him.

The Bond opened wide at her first touch, and his head came up to look at her in wonder. Had his wishing brought her to him? Was she real? His arms tightened…she certainly felt real.

Catherine reached up and caressed his face. “Vincent, what is it?” she asked softly.

He caught her hand and held it to his cheek. Then he turned his head and kissed her palm.

“Catherine, are you real?” he asked incredulously. He closed his eyes and sighed. She felt him relax slightly. “I thought I’d lost you forever.”

“Never, Vincent,” she told him adamantly. “But what is it? Is it Father?”

It came rushing back and the tension returned to his body. “How can I ever forgive him?” he asked no one in particular.

“Vincent,” she whispered, hugging him. “It isn’t like Father had any control over this. It just happened. I know you know the stages of grief…”

Vincent opened his eyes and looked into hers. “Not that, Catherine. I know grief. I’m angry, but this isn’t the anger that goes with grief.”

“What is it?” she asked again.

“This!” He held the paper in his hand out to her, “and these,” he indicated the envelopes scattered over the rug around him.

She took the paper from him and read a few lines. “This is my last letter to you,” she looked up at him. “Why didn’t you ever answer them?” she asked.

“I never received any of them. I never saw any of them until just a few minutes ago,” he told her.

“You never….? What happened?” She looked around the chamber, saw the open drawer and it dawned on her. “He kept them from you?”

He nodded sadly and then pulled her back into his arms.

“I thought I’d lost you forever,” he repeated the words he’d said earlier.

Catherine was stunned. The idea that Father would go that far to keep Vincent and her apart was a terrible revelation. He’d always insisted that she would someday leave Vincent and break his heart. He’d even done his devious best to make it happen.

Her arms tightened around Vincent as she thought of how close they’d come to being separated forever.

They clung together for many minutes, then suddenly Vincent was on his feet, pulling her to hers. He leaned over and gathered all the letters up off the floor, then took her hand and led her across the chamber and into a side tunnel that she’d never seen before. A bookshelf had stood there before.

The tunnel led to Vincent’s chamber. A quick look around told her that he’d done some rearranging here too. The tunnel must have always been there, but it had been behind a tall cabinet. That would explain why she’d been able to overhear the conversation between Vincent and Father the day she left. The cabinet had been moved across the chamber and was now standing where the entrance from the corridor into Vincent’s chamber used to be. The rest of the chamber was unchanged. The stained glass window still glowed softly, and there were several candles lit around the room.

Vincent dropped the letters on the table and then turned to pull Catherine back into his arms. This time he kissed her. It was as if he was picking up right where they had left off two years before.

She was out of practice at holding back and masking her emotions, and she lost herself in the kiss. They were both breathing hard when Vincent scooped her up. She thought for a moment that he would carry her to the bed…maybe, just hoped, but instead, he sat in his chair and held her.

“It wasn’t just Father conspiring against us,” she said softly as she cuddled in his arms. “I think it was fate too.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I was about to call Peter and ask him to come Below and talk to you, when Susan called me and told me he’d had a heart attack. When I talked to him later, he told me he was moving, and I didn’t want to bother him. Then I came to New York and I couldn’t get in the park threshold, and all the other thresholds I knew about were either blocked or inaccessible because it was Sunday.”

“When Mouse repaired the door mechanism right after you left, he made some improvements. The door still opens, but he fixed it so that three levers have to be pulled in a specific order before the door will open; less chance of someone triggering it to open accidentally. The lock is just an extra precaution. Everyone Below, and Helpers who use that entrance, know the combination.”

“But I tapped on the pipe for over an hour and no one ever answered,” she told him.

“I can’t explain that. If Pascal had heard it he would have relayed it. Oh.…” he paused.

“What?”

“He would have relayed it to Father, because I wasn’t here.”

“That explains it, but how do you know you weren’t here?”

“I felt you. I knew you were in New York, but I was far Below, hours away, with Mouse, on a mapping expedition. I knew I’d never make it back in time, because I felt you leaving before I could even start back. I went straight to Father when I returned and asked if you’d been Below, and he said that you hadn’t been. I guess he wasn’t lying, since he never let you in.”

“I even checked the manhole in the alley that you sometimes used. It had a dumpster sitting on it.”

“The one outside Izzy’s Deli?” he asked. At her nod he continued. “Israel had the dumpster set on top of it intentionally. A gang was using it to escape the police. They were mugging people on Central Park West or in the park and then would run into the alley and disappear. We weren’t so worried about the gang members. We could handle them; but we were worried that the police would follow them down and make discoveries that we didn’t want them to make. You didn’t think to use Peter’s threshold?” he asked.

“I thought of it, but I didn’t have a key and didn’t know where he kept the spare. I knew I wouldn’t get him on the phone because he and his new wife were on a cruise for their honeymoon.”

“A comedy of errors.” commented Vincent.

“It wasn’t very funny.”

“What do you plan to do now, Catherine?” he asked her after a pause.

“That is partly up to you,” she told him. “If you want me to stay, I know exactly what I will do.”

“I want you in my life, Catherine,” he told her as he gazed into her eyes. “I’m sorry I ever encouraged you to go in the first place.”

“You shouldn’t blame yourself for any of it,” she told him sheepishly. “You were only encouraging me to do what you thought I wanted to do. And If I hadn’t led you to believe that I was considering it….”

“You weren’t?” he asked.

“Not seriously. I used it as a way to get you to do something. I wanted you to ask me to stay, and I wanted you to tell me why,” she said with a sigh. “It backfired. That is what I get for trying to be manipulative. I never was very good at that kind of thing.”

“If it will make you feel any better,” he told her, “I probably would have encouraged you to go anyway. I really did feel that it was something you needed to do.”

“I’m just glad it’s over and I’m home,” she said as she snuggled closer.

“What will you do?” he prompted.

“I have two weeks off from my job. I’m supposed to be making a decision about whether or not I want to take the job permanently. I have a very competent assistant who can do the job as well as I can. I’ll go back in a few days, turn the offer down, recommend my assistant for it, pack up my apartment, load up the van, and drive back here.

“When I talked to Peter, he told me that he is going to sell his house. As soon as I can, I will call him and find out what he is asking for it. Then I’ll contact his lawyer and I will have the money transferred to him. I’ll hire someone to furnish it and try to have the place ready to move in as soon as possible. I’d like to have it in a month, but it might take more if there are any repairs to make.”

“Sounds like you’ve been thinking about that for a while,” commented Vincent.

“Not really. Just since I spoke to Peter this afternoon. When they offered me the job permanently, I started considering my options. When I talked to Peter and he told me he was selling his house, the wheels started turning in my head. Right off the bat I figured that if I was able to convince you, I would stay in New York; but I think in the back of my mind, I’d already decided to stay, even if I didn’t reconnect with you. My subconscious was saying that if I was closer to you, I’d have a better chance than if I was a third of the way across the continent. Some plans just kind of spring up fully formed.”

Catherine’s stomach suddenly growled. She clasped her arms over it and grimaced.

“You’re hungry, Catherine,” Vincent stated. “When was the last time you ate?”

“Breakfast?” she offered hesitantly.

“And if I know you, breakfast was probably a piece of burnt toast and a cup of coffee.”

“Two pieces of toast, and they weren’t burned, I’ll have you know…they had butter and jam, and I had a glass of juice and coffee.”

“Well over twelve hours ago, no doubt.” He stood, and still holding her, started back toward the tunnel where they’d entered. “We’ll go see if William left anything out to make sandwiches.”

“You’re not going to carry me all the way?” she asked with a grin.

They had just reached the study.

“I’m sorry,” he said with a shy smile as he set her back on her feet. “It just felt so good to be holding you again that I forgot to put you down.”

He went around the study blowing out all the candles. He left the one electric light next to Father’s desk on; then he took her hand, and they made their way to the kitchen.

William always left things for sandwiches for the sentries who were getting off duty. Vincent found sliced roast beef and brought it over to the counter while Catherine sliced cheese and homemade bread. They made their sandwiches, and then went in search of something to drink and dessert.

“Would you like some tea, or would you rather have fruit juice?” Vincent asked from behind a refrigerator door.

“I think I want some water,” she said as she picked several apples out of a bowl and added them to the items they were collecting on the work table.

Vincent filled two glasses from a jug in the refrigerator and carried them to the table.

“And I think I know where he might have hidden some sweets,” he said as he opened an oven door. “Ah yes…cookies.” He brought a plate to the table.

Vincent moved a stool to each side of the table, and they sat down and dug in. They didn’t speak much, and they quickly made considerable inroads into the feast they’d laid out for themselves. 

“You act like you haven’t eaten in a week,” Catherine commented as she watched him help himself to another cookie.

“I wasn’t hungry at dinner and didn’t eat much,” he explained. “Going through Father’s things was rather stressful. I didn’t even imagine how stressful it was going to be.”

“Vincent,” she began, “I’m sure he had what he thought was a good reason.”

“You’re defending him?” he asked in surprise.

“No, I think it was reprehensible, but Father always was good at justifying what he did. He always said that whatever he did was because he loved you,” she pointed out.

“I find it very difficult to accept that explanation this time,” he said as he got up and started to clear the dishes and throw away their trash. “It struck me as being more controlling than loving. He saw his opportunity to finally separate us for good, and he took it. I’m thirty six years old, and he has never seen me as anything but a child, to be taken care of, cajoled, and controlled.”

“Vincent, I’m sure.…”

“No, Catherine. I won’t accept any argument. If that was done out of love, I would hate to see what he would have done to someone he disliked.” Vincent was angry again; she could feel it rolling off him in waves.

“I was only going to say.…”

He interrupted her again. “No, Catherine! I’d rather not talk about it now. This was aimed as much, if not more, at you. I don’t see how you can possibly forgive him.”

“I’m not saying that I forgive him, but I’m trying to understand him. You should be able to. You’ve used a lot of the same tactics with me,” she said evenly, trying not to raise her voice.

He whirled and faced her. “You accuse me of trying to control you?” he asked, a look of shock on his face.

“As a matter of fact…yes! And if we are to have any kind of a future, it has to stop!” She was shouting this time.

“Catherine, I have never…” he began.

“Oh yes you have. Where do you want me to start?” She hesitated only a moment, not really expecting an answer. “There was that time I came to you for comfort when I was feeling so bad about the anniversary of my mother’s death. You refused me any kind of comfort. I can understand not letting me make a decision about moving Below to be with you when I was in that frame of mind, but to send me away, because my pain was causing you so much pain…Vincent, that hurt. I think it hurt more than what I was going through over my mother’s death. You always put me off about moving our relationship forward because you said you were afraid for me. It didn’t make any difference that I was willing to take part of the responsibility and risk. Every time we moved forward three steps, you’d wind up backing up two. Do you know just how frustrating that is? Damn, Vincent, I couldn’t even seek a physical release at my own hands, because I didn’t want you to feel it and misinterpret it.”

“Catherine, I was only doing what I thought best for you…” His voice was low now, but she could tell he was still angry.

“Now you sound just like Father!” she said. “He only ever did things that he thought were best for you, too. Like keeping my letters from you and not answering my call when I came knocking at his front door, and telling you over and over again that you aren’t a man when he knew full good and well that you are the best part of a man, better than most.”

“Catherine, stop defending him!” Vincent shouted.

“I’m not defending him,” she shouted back. “I’m defending us.” she covered her face with her hands and sat down on the stool abruptly. When she looked up seconds later, he was gone.

She sat there for a while debating whether or not to go after him. But she finally decided that they both probably needed some time to cool down. She wearily trudged back to the threshold in Peter’s basement. She carried her suitcase to the guest room on the second floor, the one that she’d always used when she visited as a child. It was still furnished, there were sheets on the bed and clean towels in the linen closet in the hall. She turned on the shower but after waiting in vain for a minute or two for it to warm up it dawned on her that the water heater was probably turned off. She put on her robe and went hunting for the breaker box. She found it in the basement. Hoping that it wasn’t a gas heater and the gas had been turned off,, she opened the box. There was a breaker marked ‘water heater’ and it was tripped. She saw the water heater sitting in the corner of the basement. There was a hose attached to the spigot on the bottom and the hose ran to the drain in the basement floor. She figured it might be a good idea to drain the water before she turned it on. Her dad had done that every spring up at the cabin.

She turned on the spigot and was surprised at how rusty the water was that came out of the hose. She ran it until the water ran clean and cold, then she turned off the spigot, went back to the breaker box, and flipped the breaker on then made her way upstairs to wait for the water to heat.

That short distraction over, she was sitting disconsolately on the bed when the phone in the hall began to ring. She was surprised that it was still connected. Thinking that it just might be Peter calling to check on her, she went and answered it.      

It was Peter.

“I see you got into the house OK,” he said. “Have you been Below yet?” he asked.

“Yes, I have,” she answered, but didn’t elaborate.

“Did you see Vincent? How is he? Did it go well?”

“Oh Peter, it’s a mess!” She almost broke down.

“What, Vincent wasn’t glad to see you?”

“Yes, he was, but then we argued.”

“Over his not writing?”

“Yes, but not like you think. All my letters were delivered, but Father intercepted them and never gave them to Vincent.”

“He what?” Peter was shocked.

“I was shocked too. Vincent had just found them when I got there. He was inconsolable until he realized I was right there in front of him. But Vincent is angry at Father and wasn’t willing to listen to anything that he interpreted as a defense of what Father did. God knows, I wasn’t defending Father, but Vincent got angry and told me to stop when I tried to explain why I thought Father did what he did. I’m afraid I blew up at him and said some things I’m regretting.”

“Where is he?” asked Peter.

“I’m not sure. We had just raided the kitchen. Vincent left when I broke down, and I didn’t go after him. I don’t know where he went. I’m sure the sentries were announcing it, but I wasn’t listening. I came back here to cool off and let him calm down. I’ll go look for him tomorrow.”

“I’m sorry to hear about the disagreement, but I’m sure you two will patch it up. Emotions were running high for both of you; you had to let off some stream somehow.”

“I just wish it would have been some other way. I’ve never fought with him like that before.”

“I know, Honey, but all couples argue. It just makes the making up all that much better,” he chuckled at his own quip.

“Peter!” Even Catherine had to smile at that thought.

“Feeling better now?” he asked.

“A little,” she told him.

“I just called to check on you and to tell you that the water heater has been turned off, the breaker box is in the basement and you might want to drain it before you turn it on.”

“I did already,” she told him. You’ve distracted me long enough that the water might be hot enough to take a shower.”

“Enjoy!” said Peter before he said good night and wished her luck.

She took a long hot shower, then downed a couple ibuprofen tablets for her pounding headache and crawled into the bed. She was exhausted, but sleep didn’t come. She tossed and turned and finally got up and went to sit in the window seat.

It was an old house; built in the mid 1800’s, renovated in the early 1900’s to add electricity and indoor plumbing. It was redone and all the wiring and plumbing was replaced in the 1950’s. Peter completely gutted the place and had it renovated again in 1980, but he didn’t destroy the charm of the house. It still had most of the original dark stained woodwork and flooring. The windows were all new, but he had kept all the deep window seats. Catherine had always loved the house. The summer after her mother died, her dad had sold their cozy home on Long Island and had moved them into a modern penthouse just blocks from Central Park. It was a prestigious address, and was a beautiful place, but the only thing Catherine had ever liked about it was the view from the rooftop terrace. When her father died, several friends had urged her to sell her place and move into her dad’s penthouse, but even if she hadn’t had Vincent to consider, she wouldn’t have done it. This house, this bedroom, had always been a refuge for her. When things began to feel too cold and sterile at her dad’s, she’d pack an overnight bag and head over to Uncle Peter’s for a couple days. That was one of the reasons she had jumped at the chance to buy it from Peter.

“Damn!” she said aloud as she settled into the cushions behind the heavy curtains. “I didn’t even tell him that I had decided to buy the place.”     

There was a full moon, and it, combined with the lights of the city, made everything look almost like daylight outside. She could almost make out colors. She leaned against the wall and rested her forehead on the glass. The headache was almost gone, but the cool glass felt good.

She must have dozed because she woke with a start. She glanced out the window, and the moon had disappeared; so she must have been asleep at least a couple hours. Her stiff muscles confirmed that.

What woke her? A sound? She listened carefully and sure enough she heard the stairs creaking and suddenly the squeaky board at the top of the staircase squeaked as someone stepped on it. She wracked her brain trying to remember if she’d locked the front door when she came in. She tensed, then pulled the curtain back a little and looked around the room for something to use to defend herself. All she saw that she could reach quickly was a heavy book on a table near the window. She listened again, and heard the door to the room next door open. Whoever it was was looking in each room; either for a place to hide or for something to steal.

She leaned out, grabbed the book then moved back into the window seat, pulling the drapes closed all the way. She moved up to her knees holding the book firmly in both hands.

The drapes stopped swaying just as the door to the room she was in opened.

***

Vincent had walked for a while; he found himself at the mirror pool. The remains of the fire they’d used when they’d all sent their notes to Father were still by the pool. He kicked at them to disburse the ashes and then dropped down to sit beside the pool. The moon was full, and so bright that he could see very few stars reflected.

It hadn’t taken long for his anger to cool. He wasn’t angry with Catherine, not really; he was angry with Father, but Catherine was there and had become his lightning rod. Now he realized that Catherine was probably right. Father had been misguided; but what he’d done, he’d done out of love. When Vincent tried to put himself in Father’s shoes, he could almost see it. In spite of the fact that he and Margaret had reconciled during the last few days of Margaret’s life, Father had still retained a basic distrust. Even when he had seemed to accept Catherine as an inevitable part of Vincent’s life, he had still harbored that little grain of something that kept him thinking that Catherine was destined to walk away permanently. He probably thought that if he arranged for it to happen, it would be a clean break and easier to get over. Thank God Catherine was as stubborn as she was. He closed his eyes, turned his face up to the moonlight and opened the Bond. When he’d charged out of the kitchen, he’d blocked it because he didn’t want to feel the hurt he knew he’d inflicted; he didn’t want to have it overrule his anger. Now he just wanted to know if she was all right and where she was.

Wherever she was, she was asleep. He followed the faint whispers along the Bond; she was also Above. She must have gone back to Peter’s. Should he disturb her?

He debated for a few minutes, then decided that he would at least verify that she was at Peter’s and then go up and check on her to make sure she was all right. 

He set out on the path to the threshold. It was chilly in the tunnels, it must be a chilly night Above; it was mid October. He hadn’t stopped to get his cloak when he took off, and he’d worked up a sweat as he ran; so he was feeling the chill now. 

He reached the threshold and found that Catherine had left the door open. He stepped into the basement and closed the door to the tunnel behind him. It squeaked loudly.

He went up the stairs quietly, not wanting to disturb her if she was asleep. He quickly and quietly moved through the house to the stairs to the second floor. He could tell she was on the floor above. He took the steps two at a time and almost cursed when the top one creaked loudly. He checked the Bond again and found it quiet, almost too quiet. It felt a lot like it did when Catherine was trying to suppress her fear, like she did the time Paracelsus had sent Erlik after her. Was she just so deeply asleep that he couldn’t sense her or was something wrong?

He couldn’t tell which room she was in, so he opened doors and looked as he moved down the hall. The curtains were open in all the rooms and the faint light from outside was all he needed to tell him that each room he looked into was unfurnished. He hoped she wasn’t camping out on the floor somewhere.

The third door he opened was the room she was in. He could smell her. It was a mixture of her shampoo, cologne and just her. The room was dark because the curtain was closed, but the bathroom door stood open. She must have showered before she went to bed because a slight humidity still hung in the air. Even in the dark he could make out the shape of the bed on the other side of the room. He decided that he would just go in and check on her, make sure she was all right, then he would go back downstairs and spend the night on the sofa that was still in the living room.

As he crossed the room, he was intent on the bed, and as he passed the window, he was taken by surprise when he was hit soundly on the back of the head with something solid. It hurt a little but surprised him more than anything. He turned quickly, his right hand raised to strike. It was his snarl that gave him away. The small figure backed up quickly, clutching something to its chest.

“Vincent!” Catherine gasped as she stepped back. She stumbled into a chair, tried to side step, and then started to fall.

Vincent’s defensive lunge turned into a quick grab, and he caught her wrist and kept her from falling. He steadied her on her feet then pulled her into his arms.

“Catherine, are you all right?” he asked.

She dropped the book, and reached up to his head. Her fingers carefully explored the back of his head. “I’m sorry,” she said as her fingers encountered a lump and he winced. “I thought someone was sneaking up on me.”

“Someone was,” he said wryly, “me.”

“What were you doing sneaking around the house in the dark?” she asked.

“I was just checking on you. I wanted to make sure you got back here.  I wanted to talk to you if you were awake; but when I entered the basement, the Bond was very quiet. I came up to make sure you were all right. It felt like it does when you are trying to suppress it and not broadcast your fear.”

“That must have been what woke me; you must have made a noise. I fell asleep on the window seat,” she told him.

“I closed the door. It squeaks.”

“When I heard the stairs creak I thought someone was searching the house looking for something to steal. I couldn’t for the life of me remember if I’d locked the front door when I came in earlier this evening.”

He gathered her closer. “I’m sorry I frightened you, Catherine,” he whispered.

“I’m sorry I hit you,” she answered. “Are you okay?”

He gingerly rubbed the back of his head. “I think I’ll survive,” he said. He reached over and turned on the lamp by the bed, then he turned and studied her face.

“You’ve been crying,” he said. “I’m sorry I hurt you.”

She moved away and went to sit on the bed. “No, I’m the one who should apologize. I didn’t mean what I said.”

He sat down beside her. “Yes you did,” he told her, and when she started to protest, he held up his hand. “And you are right. I learned control from the master. I have been taught to control myself all my life. Every time I did something that was different, Father would gently tell me that it was unacceptable behavior and that I must stop doing it. He always told me to be careful with my claws, to watch my strength. He wanted everyone to treat me as if I was no different from anyone else, but he was always reminding me of my differences.”

“And then there was Lisa,” Catherine said quietly.

“Yes…and then there was Lisa,” he repeated.

“You know, if Father hadn’t made such a big deal of it, and if he hadn’t sent her away, you probably would not have had that breakdown when you were sixteen. When I spoke to Lisa about the incident, she hardly remembered it. It wasn’t that traumatic for her.”

He nodded. “You are right. I wasn’t actually that upset about it to begin with. I told Father that I wanted to see Lisa to apologize. He told me that she’d left; gone Above to the school of the arts. Then he started telling me that I must not do anything like that again. That was when he started telling me that a romantic relationship with a woman wouldn’t be possible for me. Every time I tried to argue the point, he pointed to what had happened to Lisa. By the time he was done with me, I thought I’d scratched her and left scars like I had on Devin. But when Lisa was here, she told me that the scratches had barely bled and hadn’t left any scars. The truth and what I had imagined were miles apart.”

“But he was just trying to protect you,” she insisted. “I have to believe that. He did love you as if you were his own son.”

“I know he did, Catherine, and I love him; but that doesn’t make me blind to what he did.”

“I know, but our parents are just human beings. They make mistakes. Look at my dad. I adored him, but that doesn’t keep me from realizing that he pushed me into the law. Do you know that, until I was about 17, I wanted to be a teacher,” She smiled at the memory. “A kindergarten teacher, to be exact. But Daddy talked me out of it. He kept taking me to the office and to court with him. He would show me the offices and tell me what good I could do as a lawyer. It wasn’t until after I was halfway through law school that he started talking about me coming into his firm and someday being a full partner; being ‘the’ Chandler of Chandler and Coolidge. He used my love for him to suck me into working for his firm. If you hadn’t come along I’d probably still be there, taking up space, collecting an exorbitant salary for the sixteen to twenty hours a week that I was working. I was always going in late and leaving early because I had something ‘important’ like an appointment at the hairdresser or a manicure.”

They were sitting side by side, shoulder to shoulder, and she leaned to the side and rested her head against his shoulder.

“You had it in you all along Catherine. You would have made the changes eventually,” he told her.

“I don’t know. I was on the fast track to marrying Tom, not because I loved him, but because Daddy liked him. I could have very easily become a bored socialite. I’m almost glad those men mistook me for Carol Stabler that night. I found you because of it.”

He put his arm around her and pulled her a little closer.

“Will you come back Below?” he asked quietly.

“Tonight?” she asked.

“Yes.” He turned and looked at her. “I don’t want to be apart from you. It will be bad enough when you have to return to Chicago for a while, but I don’t think I can stand to let you out of my sight right now.”

“You could stay here,” she suggested.

He turned and looked at the narrow twin bed. “I don’t think the bed is big enough for me, let alone both of us.

Her mouth dropped open in surprise. “You want me to sleep with you?” she asked.

“Yes, but I mean actually sleep. Not ‘sleep’ as in the modern use of it, meaning to make love.” He ducked his head and hid behind the curtain of hair.

“Well,” she said in an ironic tone. “It has been a wild day, and night; I could use a good night’s sleep. Your bed always was very comfy.” She brushed his hair out of his face and tilted his head so she could see his eyes. “Yes, Vincent. I will go back Below with you; I will ‘sleep’ with you whether it is actually sleeping or the more modern meaning.” She stood. “Just let me get my stuff back into my bag and put on my robe.”

He watched as she moved around the room gathering the few things she’d unpacked. She put on her robe and slippers then zipped the duffle and picked it up. Vincent picked up the larger suitcase. Neither of them spoke all the way back to his chamber.

Catherine yawned and stretched as she put her duffle down on a chair. “What time is it anyway?” she asked.

“About four a.m,” he told her.

“Good grief, I think I’ll have to put off that trip to Peter’s lawyer until this afternoon,” she said sleepily.

“Or tomorrow,” suggested Vincent as he gathered up his night clothes. He started toward an opening in the back wall that led to what was now a private bathing chamber. He turned to Catherine before he left.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Then he was gone.

She looked around the chamber as she took off her robe and kicked off her slippers. This was home. The house Above with a threshold would be her presence in the world Above, but this was home.

She folded back the blankets and sheet and crawled into the bed. She moved to the inside; every time she’d seen Vincent in bed he’d always slept closer to the outside; that worked for her, since she always slept on the other side of the bed. She had just settled in when Vincent returned.

He stopped in the entrance and just stood and looked. She opened her eyes.

“What is it?” she asked.

“A dream come true,” he said with a smile. He put some things away before he went around the chamber blowing out candles until the only light was the one behind the stained glass window. He didn’t hesitate as he got into bed and reached out to pull her closer to him. It was as if he’d done it every night of his life.

“Can I ask a question, Vincent?” she asked once she was settled comfortably against his chest.

“Of course, Catherine, what is it?” he nuzzled her hair and she almost lost her thought.

“Um, I’ve always wondered. The light behind the stained glass window…where does it come from?”

“A fluorescent light fixture,” he said, simply. “Mouse installed it several years ago. When I didn’t have to light candles back there anymore, I was able to block the hole with the bookcase and keep this chamber warmer. It’s on all the time and lasts quite a long time. I’ve only had to change it half a dozen times since Mouse installed it.”

“I always wondered,” she said as she snuggled closer. She yawned again then was asleep.

Vincent fell asleep almost as quickly and slept soundly.

***

Catherine did put off the trip to Peter’s lawyer until later in the week. She called Peter the next afternoon to let him know that she and Vincent had “made up”, and then she asked what he was asking for the house. After a bit of arguing, not because it was too much, but because he was offering to take less than he had originally decided to ask for it, she convinced him that his asking price was perfect; and she promised to call his lawyer and make arrangements to have the money transferred and sign the papers.

The next two weeks flew. She met with an inspector who inspected the house and told her that it was in excellent condition and didn’t need any repairs. Then she contacted an interior designer and arranged to meet her at the house on Friday.

After the designer looked at the house they sat at the table in the kitchen and made lists.

“What did you have in mind?” asked the designer.

“I don’t want to lose any of the character of the house,” Catherine told her. “I’ve known this house since I was a child, and I’ve always loved it. Don’t touch the woodwork or the floors. I just want brighter colors on the walls, freshen it all up, modernize the kitchen, but keep it cozy.” She went on to describe what she had in mind for all the rooms, right down to the colors.

“Do you think you can have a basic plan to me in about a week?” she asked.

“I should be able to do that,” the woman told her. “Will you be around to OK colors and fabrics?”

“I will for the next week, but then I’ll be gone for a week or two. I have to go back to Chicago to pack so I can move. I have a new phone number here,” Catherine handed her a piece of paper with a number on it. “It has an answering machine that I will be checking, but someone might answer. Just leave a message either way, and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.”

***

Catherine was still staying Below, but after the first night she had moved into the guest chamber. She thought it strange that she saw and talked to very few people during her two week stay. She saw the children and they were all happy to see her, but the only adults she really spoke to were Mary and Mouse. She and Vincent took most of their meals in his chamber; she figured that they were giving Vincent and her some time to become reacquainted.

At the end of her two weeks, she didn’t want to leave, and Vincent was very reluctant to let her go. They stood in the gutted kitchen of what was now her house saying a lingering good bye.

“I’ll be back in two weeks,” she promised. “Maybe even less. It will just depend on how long it takes me to make sure my assistant is up to speed on everything. I can have all my stuff packed in no time. I didn’t accumulate much while I was there.”

“You will be careful?” he asked.

“Of course I will!”

“And come back to me safe?”

“Vincent, what is wrong?” She knew something was bothering him.

“It is just that now that we’ve been given another chance, I hate to let you go; I’m afraid something might happen.”

“Nothing is going to happen,” she assured him with a hug. “When you get back to your chamber, you will find a surprise,” she said, trying to distract him.

“What?” he asked.

“I had Mouse run an extension off the phone here in the house. It took a lot of wire but the extension is in your chamber; I’ll call you every night while I’m gone. And every night while I’m on the road on my way back here.”

He smiled at that. “At least I’ll get to hear your voice.”

***

Catherine was in her boss’s office early the next morning. She told him firmly that she really appreciated the offer, but she couldn’t take the job. She had things back home in New York that required her attention, and she needed to go home. He was disappointed, but he understood. When she suggested that the job be offered to her assistant, he agreed wholeheartedly. She said she’d stay on for as long as it took to make sure her assistant had everything she needed.

They put in almost as many hours that week as they had at the beginning of the project, but by Friday, Catherine was sure that the transition had been made smoothly. She slept in on Saturday, then started packing, and left Chicago on Monday morning.

She pulled up in front of the house on Tuesday evening and was surprised when Vincent met her just inside the door.

“How did you know?” she asked as she leaned back after a very satisfactory kiss.

“I could feel your anticipation,” he told her. “And I could tell you were getting closer. I thought you might need help unloading the van.”

“You’re sure?” she asked, referring to his safety.

“It’s a quiet street. It’s dark. I’ll put on these.” He pulled a stocking cap and a pair of heavy work gloves out of his pocket. I doubt anyone will look twice.”

Once he’d stuffed all his hair up under the knit cap and put on the gloves, Catherine had to agree he didn’t look all that remarkable in his jeans and sweater, but she turned off the light by the door all the same.

They carried everything down to the basement.

Catherine was planning to stay Below until the work on the house was finished, and Vincent took her to the guest chamber, suggesting that she bathe while he went to get them some dinner.

Catherine was surprised the next morning when Mary showed up in the chamber with a breakfast tray.

“Mary, you don’t need to do that,” she told her as she watched the older woman set the table. “I could have gone to the dining chamber.”

“I know that, my dear,” she said with a smile, “but I thought it would be nice to share a pot of tea and some of William’s scones. Vincent had to attend to an emergency and left early. He won’t be back until lunch.”

For the next couple of days, Catherine’s feeling that something was wrong was reinforced by the fact that Vincent and Mary seemed to be trying to keep her away from everyone else; and when she did get away from them and met people in the corridors, everyone seemed polite enough, but cool. Even the women Catherine had counted as friends: Olivia, Rebecca and Jamie seemed to be avoiding her.

Catherine finally managed to escape both Mary and Vincent on Saturday afternoon. She told Vincent that she was going to see Mary, but instead she headed for the kitchen with plans to ask William if he’d help her put together a picnic for Vincent and her to share at the falls.

She entered the kitchen to see William just putting several loaves of bread into the oven. From the numerous loaves cooling on the counters, he’d already baked several batches.

“Umm… it smells so good in here,” she said as she entered.

William glanced at her over his shoulder. “Catherine,” was all he said, as he went back to his work.

Catherine had expected a little more enthusiasm, but blew it off as William being busy. 

“William, I was wondering if you would allow me to invade your kitchen long enough to put together a few things so Vincent and I can have a picnic dinner. Nothing fancy, just some sandwiches, fruit and maybe something for dessert.”

William turned around, put his hands on his hips and looked at her skeptically.

“So, Miss High ‘n Mighty is back, huh? How long do you plan to stay this time? Until the next project calls you away?” he snorted and turned his back on her. “Vincent isn’t your plaything, you know. He’s a person…he has feelings. He loves you, and he will put up with a lot from you because of it, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to.”

 “William, what are you talking about?” was all she could manage she was so flustered. 

William turned back to face her again. “We thought you loved Vincent, but you just up and leave for two years without a word. Then you come back and he welcomes you with open arms. If I was him, I’d tell you to go take a long walk off a short pier. Now get out of my kitchen!”

Catherine was shocked. She hadn’t realized that anyone felt that way about her. She beat a hasty retreat from the kitchen and back to Vincent’s chamber, where she sat down to wait for him.

Obviously, everyone Below had been taken in by Father’s charade. They all thought that she’d left two years before, promising to write and then had reneged on the promise. She surmised that Vincent hadn’t told anyone about Father not giving her letters to him. William’s attack hurt, but Vincent’s failure to inform anyone of the situation hurt even more.

A few minutes later Vincent rushed into the chamber out of breath.

“Catherine, what’s wrong?” he asked as he crossed the chamber to her. “I felt your hurt.”

Catherine remained seated and looked up at him. “I just got a royal telling off from William,” she told him.

“William? Why?” he asked.

“You tell me. He obviously thinks that I never wrote while I was gone, and that I consider you to be my ‘plaything’ to use one of his words.”

Vincent knew exactly what she was talking about. He crossed the chamber and sat down on the bed. “I didn’t tell them,” he admitted.

“Why not?” she asked.

“I didn’t want them to think less of Father,” he told her. “I’m still trying to figure out how to exonerate you without dragging him through the dirt. They all love and admire him, and I thought that it would be better if they didn’t know what he had done.”

“You’re protecting him?” she asked incredulously. “You were the one who got angry at me when you thought I was defending him.”

“I’m not protecting him so much as I’m protecting them. I don’t want to disillusion them.”

“Vincent, they all know that Father was only human, that he made mistakes. These people used to be my friends, but now they all think that I’ve been using you, toying with your feelings. You may be trying to protect them, but where does that leave me?”

“I’m sorry, Catherine,” he told her. “I will tell them, I’ll explain it, but let them get over the grief.”

“But I was planning to go before the council at the next meeting and ask them to allow me to keep my threshold open and to allow me to spend time Below as more than a Helper. I thought I would ask if they would allow me to teach.”

“You can still do that,” he told her. “I’m sure that the council will allow all you request.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “You didn’t hear William. If they all feel that way, my requests aren’t likely to be well received. Mary has been nice to me. Did you tell her?”

“No, I didn’t, but she’s always loved you,…” started Vincent.

“And Mary is a very forgiving soul,” Catherine finished for him. “When is the next council meeting?”

“Tomorrow night, after dinner. We will meet in Father’s study.”

“Your study now,” she pointed out.

“Actually, it’s a common room now, so it is everyone’s study. I only use the desk for business for the community. I’ve kept my personal things in my chamber.”

***

The next evening a few eyebrows raised when Catherine accompanied Vincent into the study. The meeting was called to order, then Vincent presented Catherine when they got to the subject of ‘new business’.

Catherine stood and looked around the table at the familiar faces. She had hoped to see smiles and welcome, but all she saw were scowls and furrowed brows…William’s was the worst. Mary was the only one, besides Vincent who smiled encouragingly.

“I’m here to ask a couple of favors,” she began. “I’ve been gone for a while, but now I’m home, and I’m planning to stay. I’ve purchased Peter’s house, as most of you probably know, and I’ll be living there. I’m also not planning to go back to work for a few months. I’m requesting that you allow me to keep the threshold in my basement open. I’m also asking if you would allow me to become a part of this community as more than a Helper. I’ve always wanted to teach, and I think I would like to teach the younger children, kindergarten or even preschool age, if that would work for you.” She looked around the table and was met with cold stares.

“What’s our guarantee that you won’t tire of teaching the children and move on to something more exciting?” asked Rebecca, surprising Catherine with her vehemence.   

“All I can do is give my word that I will be here as long as I’m needed, or as long as you and Vincent allow it. I can’t guarantee that I’ll even be a good teacher…all I can guarantee is that I will do my best,” she told them all.

William looked at Vincent and then back at Catherine, as if weighing his words. “If Vincent wants it, then I guess we have to go along, but if it ever came to a vote, I would vote NO!”

Catherine was hurt by his words and dropped her eyes to stare at her hands. She was surprised when Mary spoke up.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, William,” she admonished as if he was one of the children she mothered. “Catherine has been one of us since that first time when she helped save Vincent and Father. The children love her, and I, for one, think she would be an excellent choice for the early reading class we have been talking about starting.” She looked around the table and there were reluctant nods. “Good then, it is decided.” Mary looked at Catherine with a bright smile. “Whenever it is convenient for you, Catherine, we can meet in my chamber and we’ll go over the materials we were thinking about using. We have four preschoolers who are ready to start the class: Little Cathy, Luke, Joshua, and Kayla. They are all four or almost four.”

Mary had settled the question, and Catherine was about to leave when Vincent reached over and took her hand; the look in his eyes was asking her to stay. She wondered what he felt he needed her support for.

Vincent announced the next item of new business.

“I have a proposal to make,” he said, as he rose to his feet. He took a deep breath and plunged on as if he knew what he was about to say wouldn’t be met with much approval. “In the past, Father has always been the president of our counsel. Even though we held elections every year, and our council members changed, Father was always left in charge. I propose that the community at large continue to elect council members on an annual basis, but I’m proposing a change in how we elect our president. I suggest that the president be elected by the council and that no president be allowed to serve more than two terms consecutively. I will continue to serve as president for the remainder of Father’s term, but I’m withdrawing myself as a possible candidate for any terms after that for at least the next few years.”

Vincent sat down and took a deep breath. Under the table Catherine reached over and patted his knee. She was surprised when he placed his hand over hers and held it in place.

The other eight people who sat around the table looked stunned and no one spoke.

Vincent looked at Pascal who sat to his left. “Is there any discussion, or questions?” asked Vincent.

Pascal cleared his throat. “But none of us have any experience in that area, Vincent,” he protested.

“Neither do I, Pascal,” Vincent pointed out.

“But you’ve been the Vice President for years,” pointed out Rebecca, who sat next to Pascal. “You’ve at least had the experience of taking over for Father when he has had to be away.”

“And that is why I said that I would stay on until the end of the current term, but when we hold the election in January, I will not be a candidate. I suggest that anyone who is interested in the job, start spending some time with me so they can learn what has to be done.”

Vincent looked at William who looked like he was going to burst if he didn’t speak soon. “William?”

“We all have jobs, Vincent. Council president is a full time job,” William pointed out. “I cook, Pascal runs the pipe chamber, Rebecca makes all our candles, Mary runs the nursery, Cullen does all the woodwork and repairs, Kanin takes care of the stonework, Olivia runs the laundry, even our junior member, Brooke is teaching and apprenticing with Rebecca.”

“And I work too, William.” Vincent reminded him. “I am in charge of security and I teach, and since father’s death I’ve taken over all his classes. I also do most of the exploring and mapping with Mouse’s help, and I’m on call around the clock to take care of intruders and emergency repairs.”

The argument went back and forth among the more outspoken members of the council for quite a time. Finally William, who was angry and red in the face just blurted out. “But Father always said that you would follow in his footsteps; that he was training you to take over for him.”

Vincent had run out of arguments, but Catherine could tell that he was holding firm to his original decision. She couldn’t help herself; the lawyer in her had to speak. She stood, as Vincent tugged at her hand, trying to keep her in her seat.

“This is a classic example of how you’ve always treated Vincent. I saw it when the Tong came below looking for Henry and Lin, and again when the outsiders threatened; even when he wanted to spend a few days with me in Connecticut. You claim to love him and value him, but when it comes down to something, anything, that he wants to do for himself, you pack his bags and send him on a first class guilt trip. All he is to you is a watchdog! I know I was guilty of it too, to begin with, but you…you kept right on. If it hadn’t been for the way we all treated him I doubt that he would have ever had that breakdown. Now, all he wants to do is share some of the responsibility for running this little utopia you have down here and you won’t do it…” Catherine paused for a breath and William jumped to his feet and leaned threateningly across the table toward her.   

“And where have you been for the last two years, Miss Chandler?” He hissed. “Off doing your thing, and when you need a vacation from real work you show up here, like this is your own private spa. How long will it be this time, before you tire of the glorified version of camping out we all maintain in our so called utopia? Maybe you won’t tire of it quickly, since you will be living Above in your nice cozy house, where you will have hot and cold running water, plumbing, central heat and a complete and fully appointed kitchen, that you probably don’t even know how to use.”

Catherine might have been able to take William’s words, even though they hurt deeply, but when she looked around the table and saw all the nodding heads, it was too much. She turned, took one look at Vincent and realizing that he wasn’t going to enlighten everyone about what had really happened, she spun and left the chamber at a run. She ran all the way back to the guest chamber she was using. She was too stunned to even cry. How had they come to hate her so much? She knew that they only knew what Father had told them, or allowed them to know, but did that merit that much venom? She wished that her house was done so she could leave. She was contemplating the possibility of spending the next few weeks in a hotel when Mary arrived.

“Catherine,” she said as she sat down on the bed next to the younger woman and put her arms around her, “I’m so sorry that happened. I’m sure everyone will get over it, once Vincent makes them see that he has forgiven you.”

“Vincent has nothing to forgive me for,” Catherine said, as she pulled away from Mary and rose to pace the room, “and as long as he is unwilling to tell them the truth, they aren’t going to back off on their opinion of me.”

“What do you mean Catherine?” asked Mary.

“Vincent didn’t want me to tell anyone, but I have to tell someone, or I’m going to explode,” she turned to the older woman.

“Then tell me. I can keep a secret,” she urged.

“It was Father, Mary,” she finally blurted out as she sat down on the chair next to the bed. “I wrote Vincent every other day for the first six months that I was gone, but Father intercepted the letters and never gave them to Vincent.”

Mary’s face went white, and Catherine reached out to grasp her hand. “Are you okay?” she asked.

Mary nodded. “You’re sure?” she asked.

“That I wrote the letters? Yes, and I mailed them all to the address Vincent gave me. Vincent found all the unopened letters in the bottom drawer of Father’s desk the night I arrived. In fact, that was what triggered that blood curdling roar we both heard. I guess I’m actually lucky that Father kept them and Vincent found them, or even he might not believe that I wrote.”

“Surely the Bond would tell him that you are telling the truth,” suggested Mary gently.

“I suppose you are right. We are both just very confused right now. He’s really having a hard time reconciling and forgiving what Father did. But he doesn’t want to tell anyone else, because he doesn’t want them to lose respect for Father. In the meantime, I’m the one who is suffering for it.” She put her hands over her face for a moment then dragged them back through her hair and looked up at Mary. “I can’t stay here like this. Everyone hates me, and even Vincent doesn’t seem to have enough respect for me to set the record straight.” She rose, went to the armoire and pulled out a bag. She began taking things out of drawers and packing. “I think it will be better for everyone concerned if I just leave.”

Mary had recovered and showed her concern for Catherine. “Where will you go?” she asked. “Your house isn’t done yet.”  

“I’ll go to a hotel,” said Catherine, as she pulled out another bag and started packing it. “Tell Vincent that I’ll let him know where I am, and that I’ll see him in a few days.” She pulled on a jacket, snatched her purse out of the bottom of the armoire, hefted both bags and started out into the corridor with Mary at her heels.

Catherine was fueled by anger and hurt, and even laden with two heavy bags, she moved at a pace that Mary found hard to keep up with. Instead she changed directions and headed for the dining chamber where she knew she would find all the council members having their after meeting tea and snacks.

She marched into the chamber with blood in her eye. Pascal, who was the first to see her, gasped at the sight.

“Are you all right, Mary?” he asked as the others turned to watch the angry woman cross the chamber.

“We have to talk, all of us,” she said as she looked around the chamber at the others.

“What is it, Mary?” asked Rebecca.

“First of all, what Catherine said was true. We take advantage of Vincent and his love for all of us, but that isn’t all of it. Catherine held her tongue because Vincent wanted her to; but I’m not bound by any silly promise, and all of you have to know the truth.”

“Quit beating around the bush, woman!” exclaimed William. “What truth do we have to know?”

Mary finally calmed down and took a seat as Brooke handed her a cup of tea. After a sip, she spoke.

“I suspected something was off not long after Catherine left, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I was very surprised that she didn’t write Vincent. She’d promised and I’ve never known that woman to break a promise to anyone, especially Vincent. She loves him. I just found out that she did write. She wrote nearly every day at first, but Father intercepted the letters and didn’t give them to Vincent.”

“Father would never do something like that,” exclaimed Olivia.

“Who told you that? Catherine?” asked William. “Probably just another lie.”

“No, she wasn’t lying. She doesn’t know how,” defended Mary. “Vincent found the letters a few days after Father died, it was the same evening Catherine returned. She found him right after. I don’t know any more than that, but I intend to go to Vincent right now and tell him that I think he should tell everyone the truth. We all know that Father was only a man and not infallible. He made mistakes just like we all do. That just happens to be one of them. Catherine came back, and it is all water under the bridge now. Catherine deserves to be welcomed back home. We are the only family she has left; us and Vincent.”

Mary took another gulp of her tea then looked around the room.

“You have to keep this to yourselves for the time being. Let Vincent do the telling. He needs to so he can tell Catherine he did, then she will be able to forgive him.”

She rose and rushed out of the room on her way to find Vincent. She left a stunned and quiet group behind.

She tried the study first, no Vincent, he wasn’t in his chamber either. She didn’t remember hearing any of the sentries announce his leaving, only Catherine’s, so he had to be somewhere close to the hub. The mirror pool would be a logical choice.

She found him there, sitting on a bench close to the wall. He had his head in his hands and looked as dejected as Catherine had.

Mary sat down next to him. “Are you all right Vincent?” she asked.

“She’s gone, Mary,” he said simply, not raising his head.

“Not permanently,” she assured him. “She said she was going to a hotel until her house was finished. She told me to tell you that she’d let you know where she was.”

He sighed deeply in relief. “All I could feel was her hurt and anger. I couldn’t even tell where she was.”

They sat quietly for a few moments then Mary spoke again. “You are going to have to tell everyone the truth, you know.”

“The truth?” he asked warily.

“Catherine told me. She said she’d promised you that she wouldn’t tell anyone, but she had to get it out of her system. I agree with her; you have to tell them. They aren’t children to be protected from the truth. They can take it. God knows I was as close to Father as anyone, maybe closer, and I knew something was wrong. I just never dreamed that he would actually go to such lengths to keep the two of you apart. I’m disappointed in him, but I still love him and respect him. One bad decision doesn’t make a whole lifetime of good null and void.”

“Catherine said that Father only did it because he loved me and thought he was protecting me.”

“She’s right, you know. He wouldn’t intentionally hurt you; not without what he thought was a good reason. Knowing the way his mind worked, he probably thought that inflicting pain now, would keep you from being hurt more later on.”

Vincent nodded. “Thank you Mary. I need to let everyone know what happened.”

“I’ve already started the ball rolling,” she told him. “I told the other council members, but they understand that they need to keep it to themselves for a while. Why don’t you call a meeting of all the adult members of the community? The parents can decide whether or not to tell their children and I will take care of telling our other children.”

Vincent put his arm around Mary and hugged her. “Now I know why you were Father’s most valued counselor,” he said as they both stood.

***

The next morning Vincent was in the dining chamber early. He’d had Pascal make his announcement of a meeting for all the members of the community over the age of eighteen. Everyone was gathered at eight a.m. when Vincent stood next to the table that he used to share with Father.

“There is something that everyone here needs to know,” he said without preamble. “I’m not speaking ill of the dead, nor am I casting aspersions on Father’s memory; but we all know that he was only human, and as such, was not infallible. We all make mistakes and so did Father.” He looked around the chamber at all the faces turned toward him. “I want to tell you the story, so that no one would hear it second hand and get the facts wrong.

“You all know that Catherine left us two years ago for Chicago to take on a very important job. I urged her to go even when she was wavering on her decision. She finally agreed that she should do it. We parted on good terms with promises to write and to visit whenever she could.

“Catherine followed through on her promises. I know that I, that we all, were led to believe otherwise. Father thought that he was doing me a favor, saving me from future hurt that he, for some reason, was convinced was coming. He kept Catherine’s letters from me.”

A collective gasp traveled around the chamber.

“I found them shortly after his death, and was dismayed at the discovery. Luckily, Catherine arrived within minutes and assured me that all was well between us.

“Since she came back to us, I’ve been aware that most of you haven’t been treating her as you would have, had you known the truth. I’m not blaming you; it is my fault for not telling everyone sooner. I thought to protect Father’s memory, but I was doing it at the expense of the woman I love.”

There was a collective sigh this time. Everyone had known that Vincent loved Catherine, but he’d never told anyone before, much less made an announcement in a general meeting like this.

“Vincent, I think you need to tell Catherine that, not us,” pointed out Kanin with a wry smile.

“I have a lot to make up to Catherine,” Vincent agreed, “and I intend to start as soon as I see her again.”

With that he turned and strode out of the chamber leaving a general buzz of conversation behind him.

He was sitting in the study grading papers later that morning, when Zach called out asking permission to enter.

“Come in Zach,” Vincent called. “What can I do for you?”

“I came to apologize,” said Zach as he took the chair Vincent motioned to.

“Apologize? What for?” Vincent put aside the pencil to concentrate on the boy, almost a young man, across from him.

“I was in the pipe chamber one night when Catherine was up in the park tapping out a message to you. Since I knew you were away, I relayed it to Father. Father said that he would take care of it, and later the next day, he called me here and told me not to mention it to anyone; that he would see to it that you got the message. I assumed that he’d sent someone to the park threshold to talk to Catherine and that she’d given him a message for you. I guess I was wrong.”

“You were wrong in your assumption, but not in what you did. You had no reason to distrust what Father told you, and it is all in the past now. Catherine has come home, and we will make it right again.” He patted the boy’s arm in reassurance.

“Will you tell Catherine that I’m sorry, anyway?” he asked.

“I’ll pass it along as soon as I see her again,” Vincent promised.

***

Catherine, with nothing else to do, started showing up at her house nearly every day. The work was almost done, and her presence served to speed up the rest; about a month after her return from Chicago, the house was done, and the decorator called to tell her.

Catherine arrived, bag and baggage first thing the next day and the decorator gave her the tour.

“The work your people have been doing is amazing,” Catherine told her as they walked into the kitchen. It was a large room, with a long trestle table at one end.

“It was a joy to work on a home where someone didn’t want all the beautiful woodwork painted over. Your idea of leaving it dark and using color and furnishings to brighten the rooms was perfect for this place. Now that table,” she nodded at the trestle table. “That was a challenge to find. I know I’m being terribly nosey, but why in the world would a single woman want a table that can easily seat ten or twelve?”

Catherine laughed. “I like to invite friends over for meals and the dining room is just too formal for those kinds of family meals. The benches were a great idea, and those two chairs are beautiful! Where did you find them all?”

“I found the table and the two chairs in Pennsylvania at an estate sale. They are antiques, and I had a carpenter build the benches to match the table. He did a wonderful job of matching the finish and color when he refinished everything.”

The inspection tour continued. The only other comments that the decorator made about Catherine’s design choices were about the very masculine study/library on the first floor and how Catherine had picked heavy, masculine furniture for the master suite, but had softened it all with feminine colors and fabrics. She complemented Catherine’s taste.

Catherine saw the woman out after handing over a check, then went to the kitchen to make coffee before taking her things upstairs to unpack.

She was waiting for the coffee to finish as she leaned on the counter and looked at a calendar that the designer had hung on the wall next to the phone.

“Wow, Monday, December 2, 1991, already,” she said aloud. “Where does the time go?”

The coffee maker gurgled its last, and she was pouring a cup when she heard the basement door creak open. She looked up to see Vincent stepping cautiously into the room.

“You’re alone?” he asked, just making sure. The Bond had told him she was.

“Yes, I am.” She took the kettle off the stove and filled it with water, then placed it on a burner and turned on the flame. She pulled a teapot out of the cupboard and spooned in loose tea. She was determined that Vincent would make the first move. She didn’t know if she was still angry, but she did know she wasn’t happy with him. She took a large, heavy mug out of the cupboard and set it on the counter next to the teapot. Then she turned to face Vincent.

“How have you been?” he asked. While she had been busy, he’d taken off his cloak and hung it on a hook beside the back door.

“I’ve been all right,” she told him. “I stayed busy. I had a lot of decisions to make about the house, and I had to go out and buy things like dishes, pots, linens. Stuff I needed to set up here. What about you?”

“I’ve been busy too,” he told her. “Community business and classes.”

She nodded then the kettle started to whistle. She turned off the burner, lifted the kettle, and poured the water into the pot. She put the pot, mug, her coffee, and the cream and sugar on a tray and carried them over to the table. Taking the chair at one end, she invited Vincent to join her. He sat on the end of the bench closest to her.

“This is awkward,” he observed, as he sipped the tea she’d just poured for him.

“It doesn’t have to be,” she told him.”

“I apologize, Catherine,” he said, placing his hand over hers where it rested on the table. She just looked at him.

“I told everyone the truth,” he continued. “I haven’t talked to anyone about it but they all know that you weren’t at fault. You are welcome Below.”

“Thank you for that, Vincent,” she said with a smile, “but I don’t know about going back Below right now. I would be uncomfortable; just the thought that they could think that I would do something like that to you. I know they don’t know me as well as you do; I’ll have to think about it.”

Vincent nodded in understanding. “We will leave the threshold open. I hope you will allow me to visit you.”

At that her head came up and he could see the tears in her eyes. “Of course, Vincent. You are always welcome here! I want you to feel free to come up anytime, even if I’m not here. There is even a study you can use, and if you want to stay, there are four guest rooms on the second floor. Just take your pick.” She didn’t mention the master suite that she had decorated with him in mind, hoping he’d join her there someday.

“Thank you, Catherine.”

Vincent rose, went over to his cloak and pulled something out of a pocket. Then he came back to the table and placed a Winterfest candle on the table in front of her.

“Winterfest is in a few weeks,” he told her. “Will you be my guest?”

She looked up at him and smiled sadly. “I don’t know, Vincent. The way they all treated me…it might be uncomfortable for everyone. Maybe I should just stay away this year.”

“I’m sure everyone would make you welcome, Catherine,” he told her. “Give them a chance to make it up to you…give me a chance to make it up to you.”

“Time, Vincent,” she told him. “That will take time. I don’t hold grudges, but what you did hurt. It made me feel like I wasn’t important to you. I know he was your father and you love him. He did so much for you. I know it was a difficult decision for you, but it hurt that you would sacrifice my reputation with your family to protect him; we could have thought of a compromise. We could have put our heads together and come up with something, but you weren’t willing to talk to me, or listen.”

While Catherine was talking, Vincent had moved to his knees in front of her. He surprised her by wrapping his arms around her waist and hugging her tightly. 

“I’m sorry, Catherine. I wasn’t thinking straight at the time, and I made a lot of bad decisions. You are the best thing in my life, and I can’t lose you! I love you!”

She leaned over and cradled his head. “And I love you, Vincent.”

Vincent didn’t stay much longer. He tried one more time to talk her into going to Winterfest, and she just told him that she would “think about it.”

Over the next couple of weeks they saw each other often, but Catherine didn’t go Below. They met in her kitchen. Vincent stayed only short periods of time. They had progressed back to hugs, but no kisses.

It was the week before Winterfest when Mary stopped Vincent in a corridor and asked about Catherine.

“She is well, Mary,” he assured her. “She was very hurt by what happened, not only by how everyone here treated her, but mostly by what I did. She says she still wants to be a Helper, but will probably keep it more ‘hands off’ as she puts it.”

“But there has to be a way we can convince her that we love her,” argued Mary.

“Perhaps you could talk to her,” suggested Vincent. “I’m sure she would welcome a visit from you.”

“Maybe you’re right. Do you think she is home now?”

Vincent closed his eyes a moment then opened them with a smile. “Yes, she is home.”

Mary went back to her chamber for a shawl, and as an afterthought she picked up a Winterfest candle.

She opened the door into Catherine’s basement to find Catherine kicking the water heater in the corner.

“Is everything all right, Catherine?” she asked.

Catherine looked at her, smiled and rushed over to hug her. “Nothing life threatening, but I think the water heater just died. The breaker is on but the water is ice cold. Come on up to the kitchen and I’ll fix us some tea before I call the plumber.”

Once Mary was settled in the chair at the kitchen table sipping tea, Catherine made a quick phone call.

She came back and sat at the table with Mary.

“It will cost me extra, but someone should be here in about an hour.” She took a sip of her tea then smiled at Mary. “It is so good to see you! I’ve missed you,” she said.

“And we’ve missed you.” As she reached into her pocket and pulled out a Winterfest candle, she glanced over at the one in the candle holder in the center of the table. “Vincent said that he hadn’t convinced you to come to Winterfest as his guest; perhaps you’ll come as mine?”

Catherine took the candle and looked at it fondly. “I don’t know, Mary. I think we all need time. Maybe next year.” She started to hand the candle back to her, but Mary waved her off.

“Think about it,” she told her.

They spent a couple hours sipping tea and talking. Mary was amused by how Catherine alternately charmed and ordered the plumber and his helper around when they arrived. They went down to the basement and were back up in only a few minutes to agree with Catherine’s diagnosis that the water heater had expired.

“We can order one and have it installed on Monday afternoon,” the plumber told her.

“Monday? But today is Friday. It is December.”

“Yes ma’am. It will take that long to find another one like the one you have.”

“What if I say I’ll take any kind of electric water heater?”

“We might be able to find one,” observed the plumber.

“What about the one we have on the truck,” suggested his helper.

Catherine raised an eyebrow and looked at the plumber.

“We have one of those new water heaters on the truck. We were going to install it in a new construction, but they changed their minds. I’ve never had one myself, but I’ve installed a few. I hear that they are pretty good and efficient too.”

“What is it,” asked Catherine, looking over at Mary with a smile.

“It is called a tankless water heater. It heats the water only as you need it.”

Do you have everything you need to install it?” she asked.

“Yes, we do.”

“And can you dispose of the old heater for me?”

“We’ll have to charge extra,” he told her.

“Whatever. I need hot water. Install it and get rid of the old one. I’ll write you a check when you’re done.”

The two men went back out to the truck and after an hour or so and numerous trips in and out, Catherine had hot water and they had their check.

Mary was shocked at the price, but Catherine just waved it off. “It’s only money,” she stated. “And money is a tool, like everything else. It isn’t all that important and it can’t buy anything important, like happiness.”

Over the next few days, several of the older children, Samantha, Geoffrey and Zach also showed up with Winterfest candles to extend their invitations to Winterfest. Zach even repeated his apology for his part in keeping Vincent and Catherine apart. The candelabrum on the kitchen table now held five candles. Catherine was wavering. 

Winterfest was on Saturday. and on Friday morning Catherine got a call from Jenny. She was in town for the weekend. Would Cathy meet her for dinner somewhere on Friday evening? Overjoyed at the chance to see her friend again, Cathy agreed to meet Jenny at one of their favorite restaurants.

They made an evening of it. They went to dinner, then back to Jenny’s hotel. They stayed in the bar and had a few drinks, then they went up to Jenny’s room and talked until very late. Catherine finally left when she found out that Jenny had a morning meeting with her company.

“Jenn,” Cathy protested. “It is almost four a.m. and you have to be in a meeting at ten? You won’t be able to keep your eyes open!” She was putting on her coat as she spoke.

“It is worth it! It has been ages since I’ve had this much fun,” Jenny insisted as she hugged Cathy. “I’ll be tied up in meetings for the rest of the weekend, and I have to fly back to London Sunday night, so this was my only chance to see you.”

“Now that I’m back from Chicago and am unemployed for the time being, maybe I’ll hop a plane for London. It has been years since I was there,” suggested Cathy as she pulled on her gloves and picked up her purse.

“I’ll hold you to that!” declared Jenny.

The two women hugged again at the door, then Cathy left. She just happened to walk out the door as a cab pulled up. A man got out and Catherine leaned over and asked the cabby if he was still on duty. He was. Catherine gave him her address.

She walked wearily up the steps to the house. She’d been up early and was tired, but it had been worth it to get to spend time with Jenny.

Once inside she locked the door behind her. She dropped her purse on a bench by the door then hung up her coat. She started up the stairs, but then changed her mind and decided that a cup of herb tea might help her unwind. As she walked toward the kitchen she noticed that the light was on. She didn’t think she’d left it on, but then maybe Vincent had been up while she was out. She was sorry she’d missed him.

As she stepped into the kitchen what she saw on her kitchen table took her breath away. The candelabrum holding the five Winterfest candles she had received from Vincent, Mary, Samantha, Geoffrey, and Zach, was surrounded by Winterfest candles. There were dozens of them lying on the table. Each had a note either wrapped around it or tied to it with a string. She stood for a moment, stunned then she walked to the table and picked up the nearest candle. The note was simple. It said “Please join us! Rebecca.”

She read all of the notes. Each one was signed by someone she knew Below, and a few that she didn’t know. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. There was even a note from William. “I’ve made muffins! Your favorite…chocolate chip.”

The tea forgotten she turned out the light and went upstairs to the master bedroom. Before she went to bed she checked the closet to make sure she had something suitable for Winterfest. She decided that the deep wine red velvet and the black velvet opera cape would work just fine. 

Catherine slept in on Saturday, and then spent the afternoon primping. She hadn’t had the time to do much of that while she was working such long hours in Chicago, and it was nice to indulge herself for a change. She soaked in the tub, did her hair, manicured and pedicured, and generally pampered herself. She wanted to stay relaxed so that she wouldn’t give away her plans to Vincent. She hoped he would be occupied with Winterfest chores and wouldn’t notice anything until she showed up with the rest of the guests.

Before she left she took the center candle out of the candelabrum, the candle that Vincent had given her. She tucked it into the pocket of the cape and headed down to the basement.

One of the gathering places for the Helpers attending Winterfest was very close to Catherine’s threshold, and as she walked, she met several other Helpers coming from different parts of the city. She was standing with Henry and Lin when Zach came up to lead the group down to the Great Hall. When he saw Catherine, he couldn’t stop grinning. It was contagious; Catherine was doing a lot of smiling herself.

At the bottom of the long stair, Mary came up and hugged her, and before she knew it she was being passed from person to person, each one hugging her and saying a word or two of welcome or apology. The last person to hug her was Jamie, and she was very near the front of the crowd. The wind was whistling around them and it was almost impossible to hear anyone say anything, so Jamie reached out and tugged at Vincent’s vest. When he turned around Jamie pushed Catherine in front of her. The smile on Vincent’s face when he saw Catherine made the walk worthwhile.

Vincent lifted the heavy plank from the doors and pushed them open, then he turned, took Catherine’s hand and led her into the dark room. She knew he was going against protocol when he seated her next to him at the top of the long T shaped table, but no one seemed to mind. She noticed that they had left Father’s chair, in the center of the T, empty.

Vincent started the ceremony, followed by Mary, William, and Pascal, then Vincent finished as the chamber was lit and the chandeliers were cranked up toward the high ceiling. Catherine was glad she had come.

Once the party was in full swing Vincent pulled her into a nook and hugged her.

“I’m glad you changed your mind,” he said.

“After what I found in my kitchen very early this morning, I couldn’t not come,” she told him as she smiled up at him.

“What was in your kitchen?” he asked.

“You didn’t know?”

“No, did someone leave you a note or something?”

“No,” she laughed and hoped that she would get the chance to show him later. “Jenny came into town yesterday, and we were out very late. I didn’t get home until after four a.m. I’d placed your Winterfest candle in the center of a five armed candelabrum. I’d received candles from Mary, Samantha, Geoffrey and Zach too and they were in the other four holders. When I came home this morning I found that there were dozens of candles on my kitchen table. I think just about everyone down here had carried or sent a candle up. It must have taken Rebecca quite some time to make all those extra candles.”

Vincent didn’t know what to say. His family would never cease to amaze him in their capacity for love.

After the opening ceremony, there was only one deviation from the usual Winterfest celebration. When everyone gathered in the circle at the end Vincent requested that everyone who felt inclined, to say a few words about what they remembered of Father.

Vincent started it: “I don’t remember my first Winterfest,” he said as he looked around at everyone in the circle, “but Father told me that it was one of the first; we hadn’t been doing it for long. He told me much about this world that he helped create. Jacob Wells was my father. He was Father to many, but to me he was my father. He was not a perfect man; but I knew, and he loved me. He did everything for me. He taught me right from wrong. He made me who I am, and I love him.”

Almost everyone had a few words to say, some only said that they missed him.

Mary was the second from the last to speak. “Jacob was the love of my life,” she smiled. “He taught me what it was to love again, even if he never saw my love for him. When I first came Below I was a broken woman. I had just lost my whole family, my children were dead and my husband blamed me. Jacob accepted me, accepted my grief and helped me. He gave me a reason to live.”

Catherine, who didn’t know Mary’s story, squeezed her hand and smiled at her.

Catherine was the last to speak. “Father is responsible for the best in my life,” she said simply. “As Vincent said, he made Vincent who he is. He gave Vincent life, maybe not as a biological father would have, but just as surely when he took him in the night he was first brought Below. He took care of him, saved him from a sure death, raised him as his own and most importantly, loved him and taught him how to love. For that I will be forever grateful.” She squeezed Vincent’s hand. “Thank you, Jacob Wells.”

***

Vincent walked Catherine back to her house after the closing circle.

“It’s still early. Will you come up?” she asked when they reached the threshold. “I can make some tea or hot chocolate.”

“Thank you Tea would be nice.”

He followed her up into the kitchen. When he saw the candles on the table, he hesitated.

“I should probably bag up most of those and send them back Below,” she said as she took his cloak and hung it next to hers on the rack. “There has to be a couple weeks worth of candles there.”

“Rebecca never mentioned that she was making extras,” Vincent told her. “They kept the secret well.”

Catherine put the kettle on then went to the pantry and came back with a cloth laundry bag, and Vincent helped her fill it. She kept only the one he had given her. He set the bag by the basement door as she went back to the counter.

When the tea was done, instead of carrying the tray to the table she led Vincent out into the living room. They were seated before either of them spoke again.

“Shall we begin again, Catherine?” he asked seriously, as she handed him the mug.

“Begin again?” She was puzzled.

“I found you four years ago. Two years later you went away and then you came back to me. This will be the third time,” he said.

“They say the third time is the charm,” she said with a smile.

“Is that, by any chance, Shakespeare?” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” she answered. “I’ve just heard that saying all my life.”

“I was hoping that we could trace it to Shakespeare and then I could reiterate what I said about Shakespeare always being right.” He sipped his tea.

“But Shakespeare said a lot of other things,” she pointed out.

He thought a moment before he came up with a quote: "Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.”
1

Catherine thought for a moment. “No, I think, Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
Could ever hear by tale or history, The course of true love never did run smooth
;2 fits much better,” she said with a laugh.

“I think,” began Vincent; then he stopped, took a deep breath and reached for her. “No, I know, that the course of our true love is going to be much smoother from now on.”

He pulled her close to him and kissed her.

“Are we moving forward?” she asked, when he pulled away and looked at her.

“We are,” he agreed, before he seemingly changed the subject. “You never did show me the rest of the house. I’ve never been beyond the kitchen, and if the comfort of this room is any indication, I’m sure that the other rooms will be just as comfortable.”

“You want a tour? Now?” she asked. Then she realized that his kiss must have fogged her brain. “Oh! You want to see the rest of the house!” She jumped to her feet and tugged on his hand until he stood. “I think we should start with the top in the master suite and work our way down.”

~

 1. Twelfth Night (II, iii, 44-45)

2. A Midsummer Night's Dream Act 1, scene 1, 132–140

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